Wednesday 28 February 2007

A book produced in connection with an exhibition held at the Justice & Police Museum in Sydney (it's a nice little building down by the quay) has attracted the attention of the global glitterati. City of shadows: Sydney police photographs 1912–1948 has been singled out by designer Karl Lagerfield, reports The Sydney Morning Herald. And he's not the only one praising it, apparently.

The museum's Web site describes the book:

In the early part of the 20th century police routinely went to places that respectable people did their best to avoid, the dark places where bad things happened. They were just doing their job – asking questions, taking photographs, writing reports. But now, nearly a century later, the fruit of that footwork offers us the most extraordinary and intimate record of the more trouble sides of everyday life in early 20th century Australia.

The book won several prizes in Australia. It runs to 240 pages and costs $65.

Blog The Sartorialist features images from the book. Blog Sign Language reviews it.

Tuesday 27 February 2007

Philippe Legrain spoke this evening at the Seymour Centre as part of the Sydney Ideas series of public lectures sponsored by the University of Sydney. In the afternoon sun, the building was masked by the new IT school edifice, the old signboard completely overcome by its shiny new neighbour.

I guess about a hundred people were interested enough in the topic of immigration to attend. One woman swanned around like she was at a masked ball, giving me the eye a couple of times. Needless to say, this butterfly had not one but two questions for Legrain when he opened up the floor after 45 minutes of monologue, for questions.

By 6.30 the foyer was buzzing with people waiting to take their seats. Legrain's book was on display and available to buy for $35.

I passed the time looking at the rather fetching paintings by Tony Slater that adorn the space. We filed in. I grabbed a chair at the front, but there was no need to rush as the theatre did not fill. In fact, there were many empty seats around the sides.

Legrain's talk will be posted as a podcast at the Sydney Ideas Web site, so I will be free with my commentary.

He is adamantly in favour of freeing up borders. It helps both economies, he asserts, because immigrants who do not qualify for skilled permanent residency visas can still contribute to the economy.

"In Australia only 17,000 people were admitted on humanitarian grounds in the year to June last year." This is peanuts, he says. "But is it really true that foreigners are a threat to our jobs, to the welfare state, to our way of life?"

"Or perhaps does their diversity enrich us?" How far does our sense of solidarity and justice extend beyond national borders? How different are immigrants, to us, he asks. "Foreigners are strangers, and therefore largely unknown." But they are generally hard-working and enterprising, he asserts. "It takes courage and enterprise to leave behind your family, friends and homeland, to leap into the unknown, into an alien and potentially hostile country in order to seek a better life for yourself."

He decries the narrow, nationalistic scope of the debate over immigration which is, he says, a global phenomenon not suited to this restricted scope. "It's as if each country is an isolated citadel threatened by hordes of invaders." Immigration, however, is not happening in a vacuum. "It's part and parcel of globalisation."

"In London, Goldman Sachs employs people from around the world to trade in global financial markets." He notes the practice of English football teams employing players from many countries, and points to the perennial expatriates who work in large corporations. "At the same time, migration stimulates further globalisation and trade. The most obvious example of that is that you see Asian students going to study in Silicon Valley and then staying and starting businesses which in turn trade with Asia."

"Or then going back to China or India or Taiwan and starting up their own companies which then trade with the U.S." He points to the paradox of governments pulling down trade barriers while building walls to keep out people from developing countries. No government would ban cross-border trade, but they do ban the movement of people across borders.

"For governments that want products to move freely but want people to stay put are not just hypocritical, they're economically illiterate."

I should point out at this point that the man who introduced Legrain was an academic from the Faculty of Economics and Business. Legrain's academic training, also, is in the field of economics. I should also point out that he is only 33 years old. He reminded me a bit of Tony Blair. The same accent and similar mannerisms when talking. Every now and then, unlike Blair, he would reach up with his right hand and scratch his neck. A tic of some sort.

And while Legrain was highly articulate and clear during the lecture itself, when it came to answering questions from the floor, he seemed unsure of himself, scattered, and less than fully in control of his material. In fact I left after asking a question (which he did not answer satisfactorily) because I had become bored.

People in developing countries are more aware than ever before of the opportunities available in rich countries (his term). Travel, too, has become much cheaper. He sees baby boomers in poor countries coming in ever increasing numbers as the workforce in rich countries ages.

Also, people in rich countries don't want to do low-paid work, and so the demand for unskilled immigrants will inevitably rise. "Whether this potential for migration translates into an actual increase in migration in practice depends on the border controls the rich countries' governments maintain and how effective they are."

Obviously, Legrain wants these controls to lapse. "That, in turn, depends on voters' attitudes to migration. It depends on you and me." He points to the irony of John Howard overseeing an "immigrant boom". Immigration to Australia is at an all-time high. "Over the past eight years, the immigration rate has doubled."

"They're not taking peoples' jobs. Unemployment, as the government likes to boast, is at near-30-year lows: 4.5 per cent." "Just as they fill jobs, they create new jobs, too." They create demand for complimentary work. "Immigrants don't take jobs from anybody."

Immigrants help to sustain Australia's economic boom. But the government places so much emphasis on skilled migration. "Many low-skilled services simply cannot be mechanised or imported. You can't care for old people using a robot, though the Japanese are trying." Richer, older people pay for others to do low-skilled tasks.

Australians are increasingly well-qualified. "Yet someone has to clean toilets, collect the rubbish and do casual labour." Old-age care is a good example of an area where immigrants would fill a gap in the employment statistics. "Wages in Sydney are several times higher than those in Manila." And that's why immigrants are happy to do these kinds of work.

It's not exploitation, he says. Everyone is better off. "Isn't this kind of division of labour creating a new underclass," he asks rhetorically. "People born in rich countries have a different set of opportunities and a different set of alternatives to people who are born in poor countries."

Given that fact, it is better for immigrants to have the opportunity to do the jobs that people in rich countries don't want to do. "This is truly a way that everyone can benefit from migration."

He says that Australia's immigration system "reeks of Soviet-style manpower planning". It's a fallacy. He compares it to asking a person from the eastern states to get a visa to work in Western Australia. The government tries to micro-manage immigration.

I think that you get the picture. Legrain is compelling and logical. He makes sense. It'll be interesting to see if the pundits in the media make something out of his assertions.

I caught a Geoffrey Smart moment on the way to my car.

Norma Khouri, reports The Australian, didn't show for the premiere of the film about her, Forbidden Lie$. Event managers have labelled it "A real-life literary thriller."

And there's no mention of it in The Advertiser, the Adelaide tabloid.

But she sent a series of e-mails to The Australian, which the broadsheet does not publish in their entirety. The U.S. citizen does not agree with everything contained in the film, it seems.

Filmmaker Anna Broinowski apparently "had a full house for the premiere". Despite this, the lack of Australian news coverage suggests that yesterday's announcement of the Oscar winners has completely overshadowed the local item.

There may be something on the TV news tonight but I'm going to attend a public lecture at the Seymour Centre, so I'll miss whatever transpires.

Monday 26 February 2007

Tolstoy 'lite' anyone? At least that's how The Australian, in a syndicated story, is labelling the publication, by HarperCollins, of a short version of the classic War and Peace.

Which is not, in my book, Tolstoy's best work by a long shot. In fact, its reputation seems to me to be overblown. As proof, I tell you that I remember very little of the novel. Anna Karenina, on the other hand, sticks in my mind tenaciously. Levin's philosophising at the end of that book is so memorable because it is so ridiculous. Equally stubborn are memories of Anna slowly being broken down by society. Her hienous husband. Her foolish brother.

The new book, however, can be considered an addition to the canon if we accept that it was, in fact, an earlier version of the novel that Tolstoy would eventually go on to write. If we do so, this event appears less about appeasing lazy readers, than providing additional fodder for the academics who will, no doubt, pore over it in an effort to discover new insights to its author's vision.

The Literature Network says that "Tolstoy's major work, War and Peace, appeared between the years 1865 and 1869." The piece in The Australian says that the new work was "completed in 1866 but never published". So it was an early draft. In that case, I can only applaud the publication itself, and decry those who pick it up hoping for an easy read.

Hooray for novels "the size of a breeze block"!
Michelle Grattan, Walkley Award-winning political editor of The Age of Melbourne, for whose sake the prime minister made comments when she accepted her gong, has reviewed a new book. This didn't have to be written. On 10 February sister broadsheet The Sydney Morning Herald published a review by David Marr. The Age, we must conclude, is on John Howard's case.

More than a book review (like Marr's), Grattan's piece is a summary of what many people think about the incumbent federal government. Watchers of Australian politics will know that Howard first won government in 1996. They've been in power for over ten years. It shows, says Grattan.

A few months after he won power, the new prime minister was celebrating that the "pall of censorship" had been lifted - people could speak out more freely without being labelled bigot or racist. If so, one curtain was soon replaced by another, and the new jibe was to label those you wanted to denigrate as from the "elites".

And it's no joke. The truth of this assertion will be obvious to anyone who has followed comments made by senior ministers as well as pro-government journalists, of which there are many. The Australian newspaper is particularly notable for this kind of intolerance of progressive ideas.

When Kevin Rudd wins government in September or October this year, we will see another bland cypher fill the top job. The similarities between Rudd and Howard are many. They even frequent the same church.

We'll have to see what stance Rudd takes toward the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). This will be the litmus test of tolerance. How progressive a Labor government really is can be gauged by its attitude toward Aunty.

Sunday 25 February 2007

Author Philippe Legrain, whose book Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them was reviewed in The Australian last weekend, is to continue his Australian tour in Sydney on Tuesday night with a talk at the Seymour Centre.

In today's Sun-Herald, Legrain lists 'The Books That Changed Me' (a regular column in the tabloid). First up is Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. "Anyone who doubts the benefits of different cultural mixes should read Salman Rushdie," he says. "Rushdie is an amazing wordsmith. He is also a master storyteller whose imagination I can get lost in for hours. On top of that he makes you laugh and think, too."

Not very original commentary, in my humble opinion. But then, he's the one giving lectures, not me.

He also singles out Amartya Sen and Amin Maalouf, a Lebanese writer "who was forced to flee his country during its long civil war and has thus experienced at first hand the destructive power of narrow, antagonistic concepts of identity."

Eric Hobsbawn's Age of Extremities: The Short Twentieth Century 1914 - 1991 also gets a nod. "Although he's a Marxist and I'm certainly not, I found it exceptionally interesting and enlightening."
A book that Dr Phillip Nitschke contributed to, The Peaceful Pill Handbook, has been banned by the federal government, reports the ABC.

The book wasn't banned because it encouraged people to commit suicide, said Classification Review Board co-convenor, Maureen Shelley. "But to instruct them in ways which are unlawful which breach other legislation is not permissible." According to the ABC, "it was rejected because the book instructs people on how to make and import barbiturates, as well as how to conceal a death from the coroner".

In this way she distanced the decision from right-to-lifers. The ABC covered an earlier move to ban the book, by attourney-general Philip Ruddock. This time, he's been successful.

The broadcast showed retailers removing the books from their shelves. The book can no longer be brought into the country.

It's disgraceful that political influence from ministers can alter what should be independent decisions by the Office of Film and Literature Classification. According to the media release accompanying this decision, "The Classification Review Board is an independent merits review body."
Review: The Georges' Wife, Elizabeth Jolley (1993)

What does it mean, to need other people? How close are we to others? What is a relationship? These questions seem important to Jolley, whose protagonist, Vera, becomes something, in small steps. She starts out looking for menial work and is taken in by Mr and Miss George. She studies medicine and becomes a surgeon. She befriends a bohemian couple and contracts tuberculosis. She emigrates to Australia meeting, on the way, a woman who becomes her lover.

Always, there is Mr George, some twenty years older than Vera. There are her parents. And Mrs Pugh. Her children, who she leaves in the care of others, are a reminder of her past.

Jolley conjures up the different periods that we are made to travel through with the lightest of touches. We orient ourselves by her subtle but unmistakable signs of contemporenaiety. Hair styles change, fashions change, people die. We are made to work for our rewards, however, in order to piece together the signs that make up each setting in the weave of the narrative.

It is a rich tapestry. Without any support, it seems, Vera manages to forge a life out of the shards of her past. Along the way, she attracts to herself people who help her: family, friends, lovers. She is a remarkable woman who is not only successful but is able to engage with her world in a meaningful way.

We never fear for her. There is a kind of pact with the author that we are here to understand the nature of life, but that Vera will be protected from harm. Clearly, she learns from her experiences, and we learn, too.

Highly recommended.
Review: The Solid Mandala, Patrick White (1966)

Chapters one and four are like bookends. Chapter two is life according to Waldo and chapter three is life according to Arthur.

For me, a major theme is suburbia triumphans. The aggregate of the stories of Waldo and Arthur is strong authorial disapproval of the deadening effect of suburban normality. Only Arthur really fits in, but we don’t see that until chapter three. In chapter two, Waldo can be observed slowly unravelling as he attempts to stake out his own territory in a landscape devoid of poetry, and that values only the most banal of excesses. For me, the first chapter defines the boundaries with a firm hand. This is what the brothers have to deal with. This is what will determine their futures. This, I feel White is saying, is Australian life.

Mrs Poulter performs several roles. She is, first of all, a foil to the twins' abiding difference. She represents the norm. As an outsider herself, she can sympathise with them. And she provides Arthur with the kind of companionship she is unable to get from her husband, who is sketched out in the most perfunctory way by the author. She is a link with the world.

The other link is also an outsider. Dulcie also doesn't quite fit into the Australian suburban world. She, also, develops a close relationship with Arthur. Waldo's attempts to get closer are mechanical. His romantic ideas are absolutely ordinary and thus doomed to fail.

The most important relationship is, of course, that which exists between Arthur and Waldo. But it is under extreme pressure due to Waldo's sense of what is expected of him as a social being. Unlike Arthur, he is shackled to the ordinary and never manages to escape its influence. It is, in fact, Arthur who injects poetry into their lives, although Waldo is the one who is supposed to have intellectual feelings. His imagination does not allow him to realise them, however, and he is doomed to recognising what he is unable to produce himself. It is a severe sentence.

Their parents are also outsiders. Their father is one because he likes to read and he is a committed atheist. Their mother is one because she is from another country and has an opinion of her station in life that separates her from her surroundings.

The main characters struggle to fit into suburbia's tight waistcoat, and are not easy in their skins. Even Arthur, whose poetic flights charm Mrs Poulter for a while, is forced to restrain himself, especially after Waldo retires and they are forced into each other's company on a daily basis.

White is a careful wordsmith. The words are chosen with great circumspection, yet they flow together with great ease. This is a wonderful work of art.

Saturday 24 February 2007

Sebastian Smee, art critic at The Australian, has picked his winners out of the finalists of this year's Archibald Prize. But first he tries to characterise the trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and their approach to nominating the winner.

[O]n the whole they are keen to avoid two things. One is seeming too conservative, and that rules out painters such as Smeeth or the far more worthy Robert Hannaford.

The other is seeming too wilfully radical. The trustees want to choose winners that show they are with it (anything to avoid reverting to those years when the Archibald was won year in and year out by the competent but less-than-revolutionary William Dargie or Ivor Hele). But they should not open themselves up to accusations that they are being perverse.

Then he makes his own choices.

"For me," he says, "the two likeliest winners are David Griggs and Jenny Sages." First, here's Griggs' The bleeding hearts club #1 (self portrait):

Then Sages' Irina Baronova (handing on the baton):

The art of Chris O'Doherty (aka Reg Mombassa), like his dual names, has two distinct, even contradictory, personae. There are the highly stylised works and then there are the lovely, little, figurative paintings and drawings of landscapes, roads, houses, storms. One thing they have in common is an acute sensitivity to colour and an assured line. Both of these qualities attest to the artist's maturity.

I visited the S.H. Ervin Gallery in the first week of January to see a retrospective, which included some works that had been in the collection of Patrick White. Today I visited the Watters Gallery in East Sydney to see images of new works that will be hung for an upcoming exhibition.

Miscegenetic Realism, as the show will be titled, will run from 7 March to 31 March. My reason for visiting early is because a lot of the good works are snapped up before the show, and I wanted to get my pick.

Cast Shadow on the F3 (charcoal, colour pencil on paper, 10 x 12cm):

Telegraph poles on the Golden Highway (charcoal, colour pencil on paper, 12.5 x 16.5cm):

Highway cutting - F3 (acrylic on paper, 12 x 19cm):

Shining Road (acrylic on paper, 14 x 18cm):

George Gittoe's No Exit exhibition, which I visited last weekend, has been reviewed in The Sydney Morning Herald by resident art critic John McDonald.

He's not exactly complimentary.

On the other hand, it's possible to over-dramatise events, to turn quotidian horrors into theatrical extravaganzas. And here lies the difference between Gittoes's drawings and his recent documentary films, Soundtrack to War (2004) and Rampage (2006). Where the drawings are surreal and mannered, the films take us into the everyday world of the US forces in Iraq or the black kids who live in Miami's "Brown Sub", which is in effect a segregated village terrorised by unending turf wars between gangs.


[I]n the same manner as the films, the cumulative effect of one grisly, unstructured scenario after another places a heavy burden on the viewer. This is very oppressive show and the title is entirely justified.

The picture shown is Blood on the lyrics (portrait of Marcus Lovett). It is a nice figurative drawing in ink that captures the personality of the young man, a resident of the Brown Sub in Florida where Gittoes went to make the second movie in an anticipated trilogy. It is dated 2004.

Unlike most of the works in this exhibition, the portrait shown here is not a rendition of violence and war. It is a quiet observation of youth, and that's why I liked it so much. The exhibition runs until 4 March.
More on Elizabeth Jolley has emerged.

Peter Craven summarises the author's work and assesses her importance in The Age.

On the blog Sarsaparilla Meredith reminisces over a brief encounter.

And Kerryn reminisces from an academic's point of view in the same place.

Friday 23 February 2007

I mentioned that Norma Khouri would be the subject of a movie to be made by filmmaker Anna Broinowski. More details have emerged in a story by well-known journalist David Leser, published in The Australian Women's Weekly this month. It is the magazine with the largest circulation in the country: over 600,000.

Leser reveals for the first time that Khouri admits that she lied in the writing of her book, Forbidden Love.

"Look, I did lie, but I lied for a reason. It wasn't fame and fortune I was after, not at all. It was about the issue [of honour killings]. And I apologise to you for lying. I justified it in my head as the ends justifying the means. I hated lying to anyone about anything."

As for Broinowski, she initially believed Khouri and thought that the American woman was simply the target of male journalists.

"I had this feminist line running in my head," she tells The Weekly now, "that this was a typical witch-hunt ... with mostly male journalists out to make her look evil. That's why I thought I would make this film."

Khouri snatched the headlines in 2003 when she published what she then promoted as a true account of an honour killing in Jordan. Her friend Dalia, she averred, had been stabbed 12 times in the chest because she had fallen love with a Catholic man.

The book sold 200,000 copies in Australia alone.

Leser's story covers all the major actors, including Malcolm Knox, the then literary editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, who travelled to Chicago to investigate Khouri's past after he had been tipped off by a Sydney-based Jordanian.

It also acknowledges Caroline Overington, another Herald journalist who worked on the story.

Broinowski will release the film on Sunday at the Adelaide Film Festival. She says that she still admires Khouri.

"I adore Norma because she's one of the most charismatic women I've ever met and because her audacity knows no bounds. She is the modern equivalent of Machiavelli."

The film is being distributed by Palace Films. It will be released nationally this year.
Entries for the Archibald Prize 2007 are now closed. Winner of the Packer's Prize is a portrait of film star Jack Thompson by Danelle Bergstrom. Channel Ten News (5.00) covered the event and The Sydney Morning Herald has loaded a video onto its Web site.

The shot above shows what I can see from my couch. This portrait wasn't named, neither was the artist. It's by Daniel Henderson and it's called Lily-Rose.

Channel Seven News (6.00) also covered the annual circus, showing Jack Thompson speaking in front of his portrait. This is a repeated trope: the subject addresses the cameras of the thronging press.

Steve Peters, the head packer, had the casting vote. It's unusual for a Packer's Prize winner to be selected among the finalists. But this year, it happened. The image below shows Peters addressing the media in front of a portrait by Jasper Knight of former NSW premier Bob Carr.

These two photos are from the ABC News (7.00) which, as usual, provided a long coverage of the event, in keeping with the station's practice of giving maximum exposure to cultural stories.

The winner of the Packer's Prize, above. Bergstrom was a finalist in 2001 and 2003, as well as this year.

Thursday 22 February 2007

J. M. Coetzee speaks out against "the animal products industry" in The Sydney Morning Herald. The piece is an edited version of a talk he was due to give tonight at Sherman Galleries in Paddington. The exhibition Voiceless: I feel therefore I am runs until 10 March.
Second Life hijacked several hours from yesterday and the day before. Before I knew it, I'd spent five hours online just chatting with other visitors.

My plan to post a review of Patrick White's The Solid Mandala were dashed and I ended up conversing with various avatars at the Nantucket Barn Casino. How did I arrive at such a place? You can search using keywords. Once you find a likely spot, you just teleport there.

Nantucket Barn Casino satisfied me because, unlike many locations in Second Life, it is fairly heavily populated. It seems that Second Lifers can sign themselves up to be 'greeters' there. What that means is that they are paid (in Lindens, which is the currency used in the virtual community) an amount that depends on how long they hang around.

So you've got a captive community right there. They're captive to their avarice. What people do with the money they earn in SL is a mystery to me. I find it hard to conceive of anything you could produce there, that I'd want to own. I guess there's no accounting for taste.

The spur to my involvement in SL was a message posted on a bulletin board at LibraryThing. Someone with the tag of marfita had posted about the BookMooch 'property' (the language is clearly geared to the avaricious). So, my interest piqued, I visited it.

"I'm usually finding people in the Magnatune area (Magnatune is Mrs. Bookmooch, by the way), but not in the Bookmooch corner," writes marfita. Magnatune 'owns' the BookMooch 'property'. Like marfita, I've met nobody there. Alas.

So I went to the 'find' tool and typed in 'library'. One 'property' caught my eye and I teleported there. Walking around, I saw other avatars, so I explored further, eventually ending up at Nantucket Barn Casino.

Wednesday 21 February 2007

Bob Gould, of Gould's Bookshop in Newtown, appeared on the Channel Seven News (6.00) tonight. It was a 'colour' story aimed at the broader population. It wasn't about books but, rather, a book thief.

In fact, it was about the bus driver who crash-tackled the thief as he ran from the shop down King Street.

Seems like Bob, sensing something odd about a customer, asked him to open his bag. The man shot out the door and the bus driver got up from his seat behind the wheel and gave chase.

The transport authority, Sydney Buses, is considering whether to award the driver a bravery award for his actions.

Gould's is legendary among book enthusiasts. The stock is not cheap, but the shop is absolutely chaotic. Finding a book you want there is almost impossible.
HP has gone some way toward satisfying me, after a long process of petitioning by me, and despite their recalcitrance. Last month I posted about the trouble with my Pavilion a1240a desktop computer.

I purchased the computer in December 2005. The reason I purchased a computer from HP is because my organisation has a purchasing agreement with them worth tens of thousands of dollars annually. Consequently, HP offers discounted equipment to employees.

I told HP that although I was satisfied with the computer until recently, as a result of the problems I experienced, in future, when considering the purchase of a replacement computer, I would be very mindful of the response of HP to my complaints. I told them that I found HP to be bureaucratic and difficult to deal with. Nobody wanted to take responsibility for my case.

On 30 January I contacted HP because the DVD drive wasn't working. The service desk operator told me there was nothing they could do for me because my computer was out of warranty. I asked to be put through to a supervisor. He, also, told me there was nothing they could do.

At no point did HP apologise for the malfunction of my computer just one month out of warranty.

Thrown back on my own resources, I got in touch with Geeks2U, who sent a technician to my apartment. He tested the DVD drive and found that, although it would read CDs, it would not read DVDs. This visit cost me $150.

I went on holidays for ten days. Returning to Sydney, I found a card from HP in my office workstation offering to extend my warranty for a year. It would cost me $180 to do so.

So I telephoned HP sales and told them about these things. Eventually, I got in touch with a representative who offered to escalate my case. He also said that he would find out if the warranty extension offer applied in a case where a computer has already malfunctioned. I provided him with the serial number of my PC.

(I also own an HP all-in-one desktop printer. I am, in general, very happy with the PC and the printer. I find that I can operate them easily and they provide me with the kind of performace I expected when I made my purchases.)

However, regarding the computer, I told HP that I thought it shameful that, only one month out of warranty, the DVD drive ceased to function. Clearly, this is not good enough. I assured them that, when it came to buying a new machine, I would be very mindful of both HP's product reliability and HP's customer support.

Subsequently, HP telephoned me and I purchased a two-year extension on the computer's warranty. It cost $220. And today, a representative of a company called AWA Limited visited my apartment and installed a new DVD drive, gratis.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. In total, I think I talked with HP a dozen times over the phone to achieve my goal. They would not, however, reimburse me the cost of calling a technician to my apartment.

Tuesday 20 February 2007

"At 16, MS-sufferer Alexandra Neumann has overcome enormous odds to publish her first novel," writes Bookseller & Publisher.

The ABC's 7.30 Report tonight featured Neumann, who has undergone chemotherapy, spinal taps, and steroid and other treatments. Now, it seems she is in remission. But for how long?

The book, Second Glance, has sold out, and Neumann is on the way to publish a second novel. The Herald-Sun has run a story on Neumann.

The TV program showed her resilience in a series of interviews interspersed with discussions with her mother, Giovanna. "I am normal," she said, hopefully.

Pan MacMillan originally thought to print a few hundred copies, apparently, so that she could give them to her friends. But the quality of the manuscript enabled them to launch a full-scale commercial release. Book signings, Neumann said, were a little daunting.
Elizabeth Jolley's passing away last week has garnered adequate press, it seems to me, for a celebrated Australian writer. First the blogs...

Perry at Matilda, summarises the report that appeared in The Age.

At BiblioBillaBong, Ron says that her death is "a real loss to Australian writing".

Maintaining its relevance (as always) and exercising its broad-ranging eye, The Literary Saloon also covered the story.

As for the newspapers...

The Sydney Morning Herald has run a one-page obituary. Deviating from common practice, the paper placed the link to the story in the main 'Entertainment' list of links which is, in general, home to features on the more popular arts: cinema, popular music, celebrities.

The Age ran their story in the 'Books' section, as is customary.

The Australian put its story in the 'Books' section too.

The West Australian published the AAP story on its Web site.

On Web-only news sites... covered the story in its 'Perth Now' incarnation.

There's a story also on Nine MSN.

On other media...

The ABC ran a story on its Web site. And on the 7.00 News, David Malouf was to be seen saying that Jolley's prose was deceptively simple. In reality, he said, it was "extremely elegant".


There was no mention of the event in The Guardian nor, as far as I can tell, on other non-Australian Web-based media vehicles.

Monday 19 February 2007

Journalist David Nason ill-serves Charles Darwin by getting the title of his most influential work wrong. In an article published in today's The Australian about the role that Kansas plays in the Intelligent Design debate that pops up now and again, Nason calls the book 'Origin of the Species'.

This is unforgivable. It seems that journalists in general are unlikely to own a copy of The Origin of Species seeing how often they make the same mistake. After all the debate that has gone on about this topic, you would think that a senior writer for a major broadsheet — Nason is The Australian's New York correspondent — would get it right.

It's disgraceful and unnecessary. Clearly he has never read the book.

It is the 150th anniversary of the book's publication in November.

Sunday 18 February 2007

George Gittoes' No Exit exhibition drew a small crowd of about 40 people to the Australian Galleries in Paddington yesterday, where we heard him talk about his work. Pressed, after about an hour, for more information on Iraq by eager visitors, Gittoes also discussed the war and his experiences on the front line.

I mentioned on Friday that I was planning to visit the exhibition. Throwing the camera into my satchel, I crawled through the Saturday traffic toward my destination. I arrived about 15 minutes late.

"Great art is pain squared," said Gittoes at one point, surrounded by his works, which are in either pencil or ink, and sometimes have photographs affixed to them, collage-style.

He is dedicated to his craft, often taking out his materials while driving from one place to another, or whenever he gets a spare half hour. "You've just got to keep on drawing."

"Good drawing is like classical music because you've got to practice every day," he said, highlighting his dedication.

"I agree with Goya: I'm not going to draw it unless I see it."

The exhibition is dedicated to Margaret Hassan, the charity worker who was murdered by insurgents in 2004. "She's like my mantra," Gittoes said. "She's the greatest humanitarian I ever met."

Clearly, he was influence by her example. While resident in Baghdad, Gittoes boasted, he did not stay at the journalists' hotels, preferring to live within the Iraqi community. He said that he tried to behave charitably toward ordinary Iraqis, including his driver, for whose sake he would on occasion bring out breakfast from the hotels he visited. The two would sit in the car outside and eat together.

"The locals who help you are risking their lives to do it." It is only right that foreigners treat their Iraqi colleagues with respect.

"The biggest influence on my work is early German humanist art," he said.

He also likened the preoccupation of German expressionist George Grosz with cabaret to his own interest in rap artists.

Gittoes has been drawing for a long time. According to the catalogue, written by Joanna Mendelssohn, he was doing a lot of it in his teens. "I still remember the remarkable freedom of his flowing line, surprising in its confidence for a boy of seventeen."

"Wherever he has gone, whatever other paths his art has taken him, George has always drawn," she writes. But Gittoes said he was frustrated by his lack of success as a figurative artist. "I often feel like blowing my brains out because noone buys my stuff."

He compares himself to Australian artists Peter Booth and Noel Counihan, saying that he sees himself as sitting between them.

As for his reasons for drawing what he does, he said: "We've got to show that we felt something." Clearly, he sees his work as a reminder that not all Australians support the war. Mindful of the judgement of future generations, Gittoes said that when people look back, they'll be able to see his art, and register the protest that it embodies.

On the war itself, Gittoes was unable to decide whether it amounted to civil war or not. When asked, at first he said: "I wouldn't call it a civil war yet." But, pressed, he admitted that he thought it likely to ensue. "There will be a civil war, there's no doubt about that."

The work itself demonstrates his facility with pen and pencil, although it is quite expensive. One work I took an interest in, Blood on the lyrics (portrait of Marcus Lovett), is listed in the price sheet at $5,700. It is a drawing in ink (72 x 57 cm) showing a young man's head. Lovett was the brother of one of the rapping soldiers Gittoes met in Iraq. He features in the movie Rampage, which was shot in Florida.

Gittoes' line is easy, to be sure, but the ideas it communicates are actually quite similar to those you can find in works that are sold by kerbside artists around the city. The message is often brutally obvious and single-faceted. There are few grey areas in his vision.

Saturday 17 February 2007

Journalist Ben Hills' book will not be published in Japan by Kodansha, Japan's largest publishing house, reports (a Murdoch vehicle).

The publisher said it had worked with Mr Hills on changing "errors" for the translation, but that it was upset when in media interviews he refused to apologise.

"Our company cannot condone the attitude taken by the author on clear errors contained in the original book," Kodansha Ltd said.

Hills certainly did not apologise, as I reported yesterday. In fact, he went on the attack. This, of course, is what has caused the publisher to pull the release. Hills' attitude goes against the grain. He is unrepentant, as we would want him to be. Not able to condone pressurising by the Japanese government, Hills lashed out.

Because the errors were not 'clear' and the Japanese government was not able to provide evidence disproving them.
Identity bookcover; faber and faberReview: Identity, Milan Kundera (1998)

The cover of this book shows a woman wrapped in a bath towel, holding up her hair. It is an intimate moment. Perhaps she is getting ready to meet her lover. Perhaps she is getting ready to go to work. Perhaps this is a scene we have ourselves witnessed.

In a way, it is an appropriate illustration of this lovely little book, because the story it tells could have happened to any one of us. Living in a Western, wealthy, liberal society. Perhaps Kundera had one of us in mind when he wrote it.

I suspect he did. I also suspect that he is still laughing from the preciousness of the joke that he has played on us. Because this book has something of the joke about it. It also resembles an essay. A study of forgetting and remembering.

Like an essay, it moves with crisp changes of direction. Each short section develops the assertions and conclusions of the preceeding one. There is an ideal logic at work that pulls us along with it, until we realise that it could be us he is talking about.

Chantal and Jean-Marc are lovers. As with any pair, there are inequalities and moments of distance that challenge banal assumptions about relationships. Because she is older than him, and once said that she felt it (possibly not in so many words, but that is what he understood), he takes pity on her. With stealth, he starts writing anonymous letters, concealing his identity by altering his handwriting.

Chantal necessarily wonders who the letters are from. Eventually she suspects Jean-Marc.

There comes a point where her suspicion and the fact of his writing converge as real things. At this point, another person enters their lives and the ensuing chaos forces the two apart. By some magic, the meaning of which only Kundera can know, they head for London.

But do they actually leave Paris on the cross-channel train that departs from the Gare du Nord? And how is it that Chantal meets up with her work colleagues in the station?

Stripped of their everyday identities, the two lovers are exposed to the inexpressible desires of the world. All the while we accompany them, feel their fear, contemplate the facts that cause them to wonder, and aspire to reach the conclusion they individually, and collectively, desire.

The feelings evoked by this book, although intimately bound up with everyday realities, are timeless and transcendent. This is a fabulous, jewel-like creation, to be savoured. Recommend reading in one sitting. It's short enough.

Friday 16 February 2007

Chloe Hooper has proffered a challenge to me by publishing in the current issue of The Monthly a story on climate change (not posted on the magazine's Web site). You see, I'm a sceptic.

After this, however...

You would think, with the great song and dance Australians make about the bush, that its survival would be reason alone to make tackling climate change our first priority. Standing in parts of Victoria, the ground now looks blasted, like the site of a battle — which it once was. It was a great battle to clear these lands, one that took heroic labour. The frontier story is a story of surviving drought, and then the rain. The tale is cyclical, elemental. Of course it will rain again. But farmers wonder if it will ever rain again that way it used to. They fear the cycle is broken and with it, the story of the Bush.

Hooper won a Walkley Award (analogous to winning a Pulitzer Prize for journalism) for her coverage of the Palm Island death in custody (Mulrunji Doomadgee had his liver almost cloven in two after being taken in by the cops for being drunk in a public place).

Palm Island is now almost over, following the independent decision that will enable the charging of the policeman involved, Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley. In other words, Hooper has backed a winner once. Is she about to do it again?

Will there be more articles from her keyboard about climate change (the ubiquitous sound bite of the noughties)?
Sultry'Literary bad boy Amis turns academic' blares the headline in The Australian (no link to the story). 'Enfant terrible turns professor' quips The Guardian, which has put its story online.

Martin Amis will start teaching creative writing at Manchester University.

"A campus novel written by an elderly novelist, that's what the world wants," he said, suggesting that the move was as much due to a desire to catch up with the ways of the young as to perform on a new platform, and exercise his talents in a new environment.

"My father (Kingsley Amis) put it very well, he said: 'There comes a point where you think, it's not like that any more.' A social change in the collective consciousness has happened and you feel you are not seeing it."

Some readers might recall Nabokov boning up for his essay at teenage argot by boarding the buses that would carry schoolgirls home from their studies.

But it's an interesting move, and one that may make itself felt in curious ways in Amis' future writings.
Germaine Greer's portrait, hung until recently at the National Portrait Gallery, has been replaced by one showing her nemesis, Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin. Both daily broadsheets covered the occurrence. For a tabloid experience, check out the caption provided with the story that appeared under Nicolette Burke's by-line (News Interactive, a part of News Limited, the Rupert Murdoch-owned service). These, on the other hand, are the pictures shown in the other Murdoch organ, The Australian:

In and out
The Australian employed a far more sedate heading: 'Irwin takes Greer's place in public eye'. The Sydney Morning Herald also declined to dive into the trough with its story ('Greer out, Irwin in').

Having visited Irwin's loudly-trumpeted haven for delinquent crocodiles during my recent trip to the Sunshine Coast, I feel that I have a particular claim on these stories. And I also visited the National Portrait Gallery while in Canberra over Xmas. My impression was not altogether favourable. A slightly pokey, hokey space with a souvenir shop that purveys some rather ghastly examples of Australian kitsch. Doesn't compare with the classy National Gallery, which is located just down the road.

But some readers will have no idea why this transposition of portraits is of interest. To them I say, read the articles linked here. Suffice it to say, when Irwin was speared by a rather butch sting ray in September last year, Greer piped up. He deserved it, she said. He didn't respect the animals he was handling and as a result received his just deserts. John Birmingham, a leading Australian writer, took Irwin's side against Greer. And he was hardly the only one to do so.

Greer seems to relish controversy. As the caption on the News Interactive story shows, by some she is considered to be, basically, a "nut". Those of us further along the liberal-humanist spectrum than Murdoch-funded scribes will probably disagree. After all, Irwin was, at least initially, a bit of an embarassment. Only in Queensland?

Thursday 15 February 2007

Ben Hills, an award-winning Australian journalist ("one of Australia's best-known investigative journalists" according to his Web site) who has spent a lot of time in Japan, has angered the Japanese government, reports The Australian.

Hills' book, Princess Masako, the prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne, is about to be published in Japanese. It has been available in English since 1 November last year. Hills says "the only reason the Japanese Government was complaining now was because the book was about to be published in Japanese".

As a man who has spent a lot of time in Japan, Hills is quite unrepentant. Indeed, he goes on the attack:

"I find this offensive," Hills said. "They did not specify factual errors. There was nothing they produced to us that warranted an apology. I told the ambassador's representative Australians were very proud of their freedom of the press and we strongly resisted any attempt by any government, particularly a foreign government, to tell us what we can read. Princess Masako should get an apology from the Imperial Household Agency for bullying her into a state of severe depression."

Of course, there's no other way to handle the Japanese. It is necessary to be firm.

"We are studying the facts and content of the book," said a spokesman for Japanese publishers Kodansha. He said the book's publication, scheduled for this month, could depend on the response to demands for apologies and corrections.
George Gittoes says he's "like a parent watching their child being taken out by a rip, [he's] gotta jump in the water and try and save them, [he's] gotta be there". More than simply a journalist, Gittoes is well-known as a filmmaker (Soundtrack to War (2003), Rampage (2006) which I covered). He's also a graphic artist. An exhibition at Australian Galleries, 24 Glenmore Road, Paddington, will run until 4 March. I think I'll go along and have a look this weekend.

At 2pm on Saturday, Gittoes himself will be at the gallery giving a guided tour.

This article by Emily Dunn introduces Sydneysiders to Gittoes' drawings. "Wherever I go, if I've got a piece of paper and a notebook, I can create art," he says. Go to the story and click on the link to watch the slideshow.

"I feel the times are so disturbing that I just can't peacefully sit in my studio and do decorative works to end up as flat wall furniture for people's houses."
Maureen Dowd, a New York Times columnist, has had a column published in today's The Sydney Morning Herald. Chick-lit, she opines, is taking over the bookstore. A Borders, no less. And she's not happy about it.

Jacket designs that are aimed at the female cohort of book buyers are distinctive. They tell male readers to look elsewhere for their literary kicks. They are exclusive in their aim: women.

Of course, most readers are women. In the nineteenth century, Dowd observes, novels were frequently associated with women. In the twenty-first, it seems, the trend continues.

As for bloggers, going by what I link to it's pretty much 50:50. But I find that commenters to this blog are generally women. As far as I can tell, that is. Are women more curious than men? Do they value communication more than men? Are they better equipped to communicate?

It's beyond me. All I know for sure is that, as Nabokov said, women write like they button their shirts: from the left. I admire many women writers, notably Joan Didion, Jane Austen, A. S. Byatt, and Margaret Atwood. Then there's Virginia Woolf, who was sort of half man, half woman. To look at my LibraryThing author cloud, however, you'd have to agree that I value works by men more than those by women.

Wednesday 14 February 2007

Review: The Railway Station Man, Jennifer Johnston (1984)

I had high hopes for this book after reading someone else's enthusiastic comments on a blog. I was disappointed. The prose is mechanical and the story is quite bleached of feeling by Johnston's clicking prose. You get the sense that her vision is rather restricted, and within these confines you give up on your dream of poetry. For there is none to be found here.

The attempt is made, however. The book is a cut above your run-of-the-mill romance. But the deadly brusqueness of the initial meeting of Roger Hawthorn (the railway station man) and Helen Cuffe is a clear signal (no pun intended) to greater intimacy further down the track (these railway metaphors just pour out of me!).

The narrative switches between Helen and her son, Jack, whose father was killed in a shooting incident in 1975. The Troubles. But there is no sense of the great danger inherent in them, and Helen's current slice of the Irish coast is regimentally dreary. It rains all the time.

Johnston tries to coax some poetry out of the soggy and no doubt beautiful landscape, but after a while these attempts pale before the clunking forward movement of the story, which is single-faceted. There are no complexities to trouble us, and this is disappointing.

I got this through BookMooch, and I will probably relegate it thenceward once more, as I have no intention of revisiting it again. I also found another book by Johnston at a sale in Glebe recently. I will probably give that a go at some point, although this assignation provides me with no spur to make another in the near future.
The library as a locus of passion. A place of pleasure and contemplation. The librarian as a unique species. Three items placed online in recent days bring our attention back to the library.

First, there's David at communal blog Sarsaparilla, who uses the State Library of Victoria as a springboard to other things. In his case: musings on the nature of history and our relationship with it.

What bothers me as a historian is that people seem so happy to typify attitudes of the past in such basic ways. It’s all very well to say this is a convenient shorthand (tell your students, basically, that old attitudes were a bunch of crap, end of story) but isn’t this a little limiting? By which I mean, isn’t the past more interesting than that?

Yes, he thinks, it is.

...all historians ever want to do (if they’re good historians) is say ‘it’s more complicated than that…’ and go into an eternal discussion.

Also using a Melbourne library as a springboard, Germaine Greer in The Guardian says that a library is a place of extremes. In her case, extreme pleasure.

Dying of boredom in my parents' bookless house, I was tall enough at 13 to con my way into the Melburne public library. I didn't know how to use the catalogue or even what I wanted to read; I just grabbed a book, any book, off an open shelf, pulled a chair up to one of the red cedar desks that rayed out from the supervisor's high pulpit at the centre of the panopticon, clicked on the reading light in its green glass shade, and read away with might and main.

She then looks at the designs of two recently-constructed libraries that have fallen within her purview: Peckham library in Southwark, London and Cavan library in Ireland. She weighs up the various beneficial features of each and concludes with a statement of preference.

Finally, there's Georg at the City to Sea (and back) blog. She has located an intriguing video on YouTube.

Borrowing heavily (and ironically) from the visual and narratological lexicons of the nature filmmaker, the creators of the video present us with a short vignette about librarians. Specifically, we are invited to 'study' them as they participate in an annual conference. It took place this year in Seattle. I found the video very amusing and, in a quiet way, I think it says much about our abiding affection for this particular breed of service provider.

Tuesday 13 February 2007

This story beggars belief, in an obvious way because how, after all, could a mother treat her children so badly. (And in a nice neighbourhood, too.) We'll get onto the Kampusch thing in a minute.

The Australian only got hold of it today because, for some reason, the authorities have released details. But they knew about it since October 2005: since long before the Kampusch scandal broke.

Before we look at Kampusch, let's have a quick glance at Elfriede Jelinek, the 2004 Nobel Prize winner, who has been handled so harshly by her compatriots. I'm afraid that her Nobel lecture is a little too complex for me to draw out much that is relevant to this story. She does talk about how the writer must stand outside society, in order to serve it.

But her difficult prose and unpleasant characters seem less unsightly, in a way, since this story broke. I will say, for the record, that I enjoyed reading both Lust (trans. 1992) and The Piano Teacher (trans. 1988) very much. She seems to have a handle on the truth, much in the way that Fassbinder did, with movies like Fox (1975; Fox and His Friends in the U.S.). She seems to understand that people do horrible things in private, because they can't help themselves.

The wife of judge Andreas M, it seems, couldn't help herself either. The treatment she meted out to the girls is clearly the result of mental distress. She seems to have done everything in her power to debase the relationship, following her crisis and the granting by the courts of custody of the children to her.

Natascha Kampusch seems to have fared far better than they have, although the amount of time she spent in her dungeon was greater than theirs. At least she could watch TV and talk with her captor, Wolfgang Priklopil.

It is believed the children had contact only with their mother during their captivity and, as a consequence, developed an almost unintelligible language.

Perhaps depriving individuals of language deprives them of something even more precious than the simple pleasures of talking and reading. Perhaps it deprives them of their humanity. If so, then communication may be the most intimately human activity we can perform.

I suppose it's not good form to philosophise on the back of something as grotesque as this but, in the end, that's what people do. And more will come out about this, I'm certain.

Monday 12 February 2007

The Archibald Prize is very much a Sydney thing. The $35,000 first prize — for a portrait painting preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics — is earnestly coveted by all Australian painters. But perhaps more than winning the cash, they covet the unequalled exposure a hanging among the finalists brings.

The Australian ran a story today, the first day of submissions. Entries can be submitted until Friday this week.

ABC News also shone the spotlight on the show today with a short segment at the end of the broadcast showing first submissions. In the rain. (Rain is a big deal right now given the drought.) One artist carried her painting from her home outside Sydney on the roof of her car and, naturally, it got wet.

Wet or dry, we can be assured of more coverage of this circus over the coming days and weeks. In addition to the main prize, there's also a prize awarded by the men and women who hang the portraits in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, as well as a 'people's choice' award, derived from votes cast by gallery visitors. A form is prepared for the purpose and distributed among patrons.
Review: Occasion for Loving, Nadine Gordimer (1963)

Jessie Stilwell is:

… an untidy, preoccupied woman whose face was beginning to take on the shape of the thoughts and emotions she had lived through, in place of the likeness of heredity with which it had been born.

At least in the eyes of Ann Davis, a newly-arrived border. Jessie's husband, Tom, is an academic and an historian. They live in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Gordimer’s prose is quick, quick, and very impressive, folding in on itself in its haste to explain everything — everything! — about this couple, who live in a house that’s been well lived in (“full of decently obscure corners where various homeless objects could lie“), with a bevy of children and a liking for gin and tonics in the evening.

I loved the image of Jessie returning inside after watering the garden. The climate is dry, and she must stamp her feet “to rid her sandals of their rim of mud and pine-needles”. But what about the title? Where will it lead? Is there a tragedy? A scandal?

We are too busy to wonder long. Some sections end with a blast of trumpets, hunting horns, oboes, and clarinets. Violins alternate with cellos. Gordimer is comfortable skipping between focalisations as she peoples the house and garden with her vivid characters.

Ann Davis, the newcomer, exudes a brassy confidence that she can cope with this new world. Coming from England (although born in Rhodesia), she might have suffered from culture-shock. But there’s no danger of that, it seems.

While Ann flutters around the exterior of the family, Jessie and Tom take care of the details of everyday life. Jessie’s son by her first marriage, Morgan, who is fifteen, is caught by the parents of the boy he went with to a dance hall (where patrons pay to dance with girls). This event has the same sound as the first appearance of a theme in a piece of classical music. As I read, I wondered, as the event grew into a major idea, when its sensibility would be repeated, and by whom.

Eventually, of course, it is. And it’s the mercurial Ann who oversteps the boundaries of social convention. This is the era of apartheid, and fraternising with a black man can lead to jail. But this is just what Ann does.

Everybody is affected by her actions, and while Jessie and Tom are extremely liberal in their outlook, they sometimes resent the way her actions impact on their lives. It seems that the person least put out by it all is Boaz, Ann’s husband. A musicologist specialising in African folk music, he is often deeply immersed in the culture that many blacks, including Gideon, Ann’s lover, have lost track of due to urbanisation.

But Gordimer is very sympathetic toward Boaz, the jilted husband. She need not have been. It is an indication of the breadth of her vision that she treats each character with the kind of empathy that some writers see fit to dispense with. It is all too easy to make the husband into a buffoon or a lout. But Gordimer does not, and it is a credit to her.

As a record of its times, Occasion for Loving should be compulsory reading for anyone who is interested in knowing what South Africa was like before 1994, when the repressive policy officially ended. This book illustrates just how repressive the policy was.

Once Ann and Gideon leave the safety of the big city (Johannesburg) and venture out into the countryside, the social attitudes and customs that derive their legitimacy from apartheid shock Ann in small but telling ways. She is, naturally, something of a free spirit, and anything that thwarts her instincts serves to insult her deeply.

At a loose end, the two find their way to the seaside village where Jessie is vacationing with her younger children. Irritated, at first, by their effrontery, Jessie comes to understand them better, and to make peace with herself. The small-town milieu these scenes are set in also enable Gordimer to make some withering comments about how the instincts of ordinary people who otherwise would be considered kind, are twisted by apartheid into ugly attitudes.

Beyond this outline of the book’s plot, we are treated to some of the most complex and subtle writing that I have ever read. Gordimer’s nuanced mind causes a thousand small revelations to emerge in the narrative.

This is a book to treasure. Although I appreciate the artistry evident in this book, Gordimer’s insights are very much beyond my powers of expression to articulate beyond what I have already said. Needless to say, there is much more in this book than I have described.

I also very much liked the cover illustration, which is a detail from Charles Blackman’s Dreaming in the Street. Blackman is a favourite of mine and, although very well-known in Australia, I suspect that he is unknown to most.

Sunday 11 February 2007

Maureen Freely, Orhan Pamuk's translator, talks about their collaboration and other things. One thing she says is that she expected Pamuk's political activities would put off the Swedish committee. This remark is at odds with received wisdom.

Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses was what I read while up in Queensland, during my breaks from dealing with the parental unit. I would lie on the blue velour couch in my apartment and drift off into a dreamworld of scrubby hills and rancheros which spans two nations in the middle of the twentieth century.

A few days ago, kimbofo of the blog Reading Matters posted about her dismay at McCarthy's punctuation. Specifically, she was put off by his way of omitting apostrophes from contractions. So, for example, he'll write 'dont' instead of 'don't'. 'Wont' instead of 'won't'. And so on. It struck me, too, but I didn't find it off-putting at all. Rather, I found this method to increase the dreaminess of the prose. Especially considering that the protagonists of All the Pretty Horses are sixteen and seventeen. I thought it echoed the texture of their thoughts, they being rather unsophisticated fellows.

The fact that McCarthy uses the same method in another book, in this case The Road, suggests that it is a stylistic feature of McCarthy in general, rather than one employed for the specific purposes of one novel.

In this case, it seems that McCarthy is possibly trying to make a point about the flow of the narrative. By omitting the apostrophes, he is perhaps trying to reduce the friction experienced by the reader, speed up his or her progress through the matrix of words and ideas.

For me, All the Pretty Horses is quite a wonderful book. John Grady Cole and his mate Rawlins are plausible heroes in a world where horses are money. The way these two adolescents handle wealth in this form is fascinating. And McCarthy's quiet power brings characters and events into relief with a slight delay, so that it is only after the dramatic moment is past that you understand its full meaning.

Saturday 10 February 2007

So I'm back in Sydney.

My mother drove me out to the airport. Dad came down to the garage to say farewell and we clasped hands (I'm still cross at him for an argument we almost had just before I went up). At the airport, I made mum drive through like a taxi and just drop me off. It's because I want to have a couple of smokes before getting on the plane.

The arrows show how everything must end, even pleasant things like a holiday on the Sunshine Coast. Arriving at Sydney airport, I bought a sandwich to eat while waiting for the bags to emerge on the carousel.

After I got off the train at Campsie, having become acclimatised to the endless suburbs (after enjoying the country atmosphere of Maroochydore), I was forced to drag the suitcase along on one wheel. The other one locked up almost immediately because of the weight of the luggage (23 kilos). All those books I bought!

Arriving back home, I was happy to see that I HAD emptied the garbage bin before leaving home. Had I not, the place would probably be filled with those little mites that seem to congregate around my kitchen sink.

Friday 9 February 2007

On a whim, I decide to go to Buderim. My mother had told me that it was like Sydney's north shore, where rich people live. I wanted to see for myself. So I asked some people what they thought of Buderim.

"Lot of rich buggers up there," said my tobacconist. "It's the oldest part of the settlement."

"It's retiree-based," said a man wearing a green tie. "Very nice properties. Nice coffee shops."

"Bit of the new and a bit of the old," said a bus driver.

I board the 617 at 4.40pm at Sunshine Plaza. The bus goes east on Aerodrome, then south on Maud. The traffic is backed up for about half a kilometre. We go up Sugar Road then into the thickly-wooded hills within view of the coast. The ascent is steep.

After my arrival I take the above photo just after stepping off the bus. Then I walk down Main Street and turn east into a steep incline called Ballinger Road. These houses, like most of the houses in Buderim, are set among trees. Many have spectacular views of the coast.

I go back to Main Street and walk up the hill aways. The following photo is taken from a vacant lot overlooking the coastal strip, next to an enormous club.

My legs stiff from yesterday's climb and my calves red with sunburn from this morning's trek out west, I head for the bus stop. Behind it is a green park surrounded on three sides by tall trees.

If you're familiar with the topology of Sydney, I would say that the journey from Maroochydore to Buderim was like going from Bondi to Pennant Hills, then to Cherrybrook and to Katoomba. Rather than the north shore of Sydney, I think Buderim resembles the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney.