Thursday 28 June 2007

Kate Rossmanith's lovely feature in this month's The Monthly eclipsed, for me, the cover story on Rupert Murdoch's new wife, Wendy Deng. I did read the latter piece, too, and enjoyed learning about Deng's outgoing personality and aspirations.

But Rossmanith's little piece touched me. It ends with a sigh. And it uses the dreaded 'I'. It didn't put me off. There seems to be a welded-on convention in the world of media to avoid using the personal pronoun. In a feature I wrote last year, I used it. But Rossmanith's a lot better at it than me.

The article is about Far North Queensland and crocodiles, being a study in miniature of how locals treat these rough beasts. Avoid going near the water in the evening. Just watch for odd-looking logs that weren't there yesterday. It flows along so easily and smooth that the terrific ending just crept up on me. The surprise was full of pleasure.

A writer to watch for (another: last year I discovered the fun of reading Chloe Hooper's feature articles; she won a Walkley).

Tuesday 26 June 2007

So why aren't I reading?

Semester one is done, there's a swag of new titles on the shelf, and I've got the evening hours to get stuck in. But I don't. Instead, I work on my Web site (oooooh, the capital 'w'!!!).

Between 2001 and 2003 I read extensivley around Jane Austen. Is it daggy to admit to this level of interest? Austen is the anti-Romantic par excellance and we live in an anti-Romantic era, so Kate Crawford tells us. The linked post is outrageously postmodern, segueing from the grounding of the big red coal transport off Newcastle to Crawford, and on to Alan Kohler, the ABC's highly-credible and engaging economics guy.

I put it to Crawford during the session, when questions were invited from the floor, that our era of 'bad adults' is not so much postmodern as 'post-Romantic'. She liked the idea.

It was glib and well-executed.

Jane Austen, outrageously popular today, really disliked the Romantic sensibility. Walter Scott praised Emma in the pages of the Tory review The Quarterly. But she didn't really hit her stride, as a canonical favourite, until about the nineteen-twenties. Now, she has truly come of age.

I've got two big, fat 'Marbig'-brand two-ring binders on my top shelf stuffed with notes I scribbled during my quest to fathom Austen. The list, already a good A4 sheet long, will go on my Web site soon.

The story I told Crawford to illustrate my idea hearkens back to the days I worked in an office in Enmore operated by the Department of Family and Community Services. The name indicates the vintage, because it's not called that any more.

A guy came into the office to get a transport concession card, as many did. And he bragged that his mother bought his clothes. He lived at home -- another boast. He simply refused to rebel, as did Austen.

In Austen's case, much of the justification for her poor showing as a 'modern' (as the Romantics considered themselves at the time) lies with her wonderful father. She adored him, and he merited her love. He would read the trashy novels she enjoyed and encouraged her scribbling as a teenager. I can see him laughing at her silly juvenilia.

So there's a message here for prospective parents: patience has its own, unique rewards. On my site there's a page dedicated to my grandfather, whose daughter loved him very much. So I have a model of my very own.

Sunday 24 June 2007

The Arts of Islam exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW was, frankly, a bit of a disappointment. During the week a guy spoke on TV (SBS, natch) about how the quality of Islamic art entitled Mulsims to greater esteem in the West. He was shown escorting Mary Kostakidis around the displays.

Among a plethora of illustrated manuscripts were a few ceramic items that caught my eye, and I bought a little $14-dollar jug on the way out to celebrate finishing my semester one assignments. There are also some nice metal items.

But give me the Renaissance any day.

I don't attribute value to items made for the elite, regardless of how perfect they are or how much gold leaf they display. The execution in illustrated panels evinces identical aesthetic choices as those made by Western scribes and artisans of the Middle Ages. There's absolutely nothing new here.

Regardless, I bought the catalogue.

In the shop behind the wall with the 'exit' sign on it you can buy a number of titles added for purely commercial reasons by the gallery's management. Naipaul's Among the Beleivers rubs shoulders with Ayaan Hirsi Ali's scathing critique of Islam. There's Abdelrahman Manif's Cities of Salt and Amin Maalouf's Balthasar's Odyssey, The Heart of Islam by Seyyed Hossain Nasr, Reading Lolita in Tehran, and (of course) Nine Parts of Desire.

So whether you feel disposed to grant esteem to Islamic art, or not, you can indulge any whim in the shop. The one book I think should definitely have been there, and wasn't, was Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red, which is about illustrators in nineteenth-century Istanbul. A perfect fit, I would have thought.

Saturday 23 June 2007

Despite spending practically the entire day today loading photos onto my provider's Web server, I've only used one per cent of my allocation. The shots cover most of what I took in the nineteen eighties. In this time, I lived at St Paul's College, and in Glebe and Bondi. There are also a few from when I first relocated to Tokyo.

The shots below show what I'm doing now, this time with a digital camera, not the old Pentax I used in my early majority. I particularly relish that time of day when the darkness has almost taken over.

Wednesday 20 June 2007

Now this is news... Charles Firth is building a Web site to "focus on news and current events" with a "humourous bent" (this last written by Asher Moses, a reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald). The Manic Times will compete with mainstream news outlets, says Firth. Moses transcribes an interview on page two of the story.

The site is up but still unpopulated. Firth, best known for The Chaser's War on Everything and, most recently, seen on that program talking with Americans on the dizzy streets of the U.S.A., "was coy about his plans" in an email exchange with Moses.

Firth, it appears, is the brother of Labor MP for Balmain, Verity Firth.

Asked "Who do you see as your competition?" Firth answered "You".

"Will there be any influence from The Chaser?" asked Moses. Firth answered "It will be badly sub-edited with shotload of typis." It "will seek to fill a gap that Firth and his team believe exists in political reporting by mainstream publications", Moses reports.

And will it be launched before the end-of-year election? I checked the title with Google and it's not been spidered yet. But there's a post on the CNNNN LiveJournal site with 13 comments. An eponymous blog is totally unrelated.

"With wit like that this project can ONLY succeed," said didz on the LiveJournal site, in response to email question nine. Apart from the fact that most of the commenters support Kevin Rudd, there is precious little worth reading online at the time of posting.

Wait for the launch, expect an explosion of results. There is a site with some offbeat content but, as Moses says, the only way to divine what's up Firth's sleeve is to go to and use the 'View Source' function.

"A Sydney centric New South Wales based multi-media publication," says the 'Description' meta tag. There's not really much to explain Firth's aim and the guys on The Chaser mentioned nothing about the new site tonight. There's also nothing on the ABC Web site.

Sigh. Just have to wait.

Tuesday 19 June 2007

Chris Hitchens says the Pakistanis are "boring" to protest about Salman Rushdie's knighthood. "What right have they got to tell us who we should honour," he asked.

"It is a slap on the face of Muslims. It is not acceptable at all," said Farhana Khalid Binori, a member of Parliament from a "conservative religious party", according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Robert Brinkley, Britain's high commissioner to Pakistan, regurgitated the boilerplate outputted by governmental PR flacks: "It is simply untrue to suggest that this in anyway is an insult to Islam or the Prophet Muhammed, and we have enormous respect for Islam as a religion and for its intellectual and cultural achievements."

Rushdie himself, however, was totally mum on the subject, although the TV cameras did get some nice, scenic photos of the writer perambulating along a street lined with enormous columns: symbols of European greatness.

No books were reported burned this time, but some irate mean in white dresses "burned effigies of Queen Elizabeth II and Rushdie", according to Forbes.

It seems these Middle-eastern types have two standard items in their protest repertoire. They either burn something or shoot someone. Hitchens is right: it's boring.

Monday 18 June 2007

Perry had to point me to Peter Carey's latest piece because I've gotten lazy. But readers of yesterday's post will know why. I must get back into the habit of trawling the lit pages of broadsheets and magazines for the good oil.

Carey's article is good. He points to an issue we all face, to a greater or lesser degree. The professionalisation of 'authorship' follows trends in pretty much every discipline. Or so I think. I personally attribute this fact to the rise and rise of celebrity.

There may be other reasons for the popularity of celebrity, but what Carey says is timely. And I think Perry would agree (he didn't say so much in his post, but he's expressed misgivings before about creative writing programs).

Celebrity is part of the world of the writer, too, nowadays. More than ever before, possibly. Although we may wish to recall how Blake was (finally!) recognised by a group of young aesthetes in the second or third decade of the nineteenth century. They were his groupies. We also remember how Thomas De Quincey 'took up' with Wordsworth and Coleridge at their retreat by the Lakes.

Money and celebrity are changing the way people view a career as a writer, Carey seems to say. Or am I pulling a long bow? He's quite clear: "there is no worse place than New York to be a young writer" and "I can see the toll it takes to be a young unpublished writer in this town", he says.

His own experience, which led to such wonderful collections of stories as War Crimes (who reads early Carey any more?), well before Bliss brought him to wide attention:

Writing after work at the kitchen table, I was risking nothing except my sentences. No one knew I was there. There was no one to network with or suck up to.

And what sort of work was he doing? As an advertising copywriter, Carey was already involved in creativity, and must have known the feeling you get when your best idea is rejected by someone who writes boilerplate commercial correspondence and gets paid to do so.

Writers are saddled with debt, he says, to the tune of US$60,000, and who can support such a mountain of debt? In his own case, he says, such pressures did not exist. Perry says "he was probably fortunate in that he was nurtured in his early writing years by the Australian publishing industry, and wasn't cast aside after a couple of low-selling books". I tend to agree, but there's nothing in the world that's going to stop professionalisation. Leon Mayhew's The New Public and Jergen Habermas' The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere are lucid on this issue.

But just the very existence of such books is an indicator of how far the process has gone. Mayhew blames much on the success (he almost resents it) of science since the late nineteenth century. There's a PhD in a critique of his distaste for professional communicators (the subject of his book), but he is worth reading. I personally believe that it is better to have a professional class than the alternative: a nobility.

But what has this to do with writers? I think that the process will continue, and it is interesting to read Carey's piece for the insights it provides. Young, aspiring writers, it seems, become 'research assistants' to famous novelists. This seems much like, in the old days, how young artists would enter the atelier of an established painter, doing the bits that are easy, before the master comes along and adds the coup de grace: the face, perhaps, and maybe also the hands (the hardest bits to render well).

Are we going back to the future?

Sunday 17 June 2007

All semester two assignments are now complete, the last to be submitted tomorrow.

And in the news we have Salman Rushdie getting the tap from HRH Liz! This is (surprise!) condemned by an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman as "a blatant example of the anti-Islamism of senior British officials".

Blah blah blah.

Along with Rushdie, our very own Barry Humphries will bend the knee, and receive a CBE. Dame Edna, his media manager, admitted by telephone in conversation with a TV reporter that she had urged HRH to "throw him a crumb". "Throw him anything," said Everage.

HRH would have remembered Dame Edna welcoming her to a concert with "The Jubilee girl is here, possums", a typical greeting from the gorgeous lady of Moonee Ponds.
No posts for almost a week because I've been working on my home page. Getting the design down pat has been enjoyable, because there is so much potential content. As pages get longer when content is added there's a temptation to split them to make more compact, separate pages. I find this very creative and enjoyable.

Content on my home page is, as you can see if you visit the 'About' page, sometimes challenging. Basically, material on the 'First Majority' page may not be suitable for minors. My disclosure to these visitors got too long, so I just flagged that page generally. There is no porn. Yet (is porn suitable for serious discussion?).

Some visitors to this blog may have noticed the change to my screen name. I can't fix precisely when I decided to do this. I guess with having the home page in the pipeline it seemed neater, as well as more honest, to disclose my identity fully.

As to the home page, as I said already: there is unlimited possible content. I have been producing drawings, photos and writings for three decades. Next time you check back, there might just be something new.

On the home page, I've structured content in a timeline because of much material from relatives about the different family strands going back to the Renaissance. My father did a lot, as did cousins in other parts of the country. I hope people don't think this conceited. It's not meant to be. Interest in history dating back to the first years of this century will ensure I have plenty of things to say about every age since then.

Lastly, I feel lucky that my name was still available as a domain name. The uptake of the Internet has been staggering, so the chances of it being available were, I felt, slim. But when I went to the registration company's Web site, it just popped up. Lucky me!

Tuesday 12 June 2007

Abhay Kumar's email arrived this afternoon with an enormous attachment: his new book. Titled River Valley to Silicon Valley, it appears to be a typical migrant success story, the kind of rags-to-riches story that I read yesterday in a recent Good Weekend (9 June). That article, about Iranian-American writer Khaled Hosseini, describes him as "a middle-class doctor" (which he is). Journalist Mark Coultan also notes the Hosseini family's "classic migrant successs story": all five children of the first-generation parents become professionals.

I also have on my computer the story my father wrote, beginning in 2000, of his rise from penury in the 1930s, his father a migrant from Portuguese East Africa, to success in the field of engineering. So when Kumar's email arrived I was less than excited.

The text itself, at least the introduction, which is about 700 words long, manages to cram every stereotypical observation available into its short, and not sweet, extent.

"India is an enigma wrapped in several layers," it starts. Along with a multitide of infelicitous grammatical constructions, it keeps on in this vein. From "a slow growing backward British colony" to "a successful and modern secular democracy". Puhleeze.

He neglects to mention that it was due to British endeavour that all this is due. Indians, and most people from countries that once were colonies, always feel resentment about their earlier subjugation. But the British were accidental rulers, guided primarily by the demands of greed and the geopolitical realities of the era in which their ascendancy developed from the operation of trading stations to hegemony.

Without the British there would be no India today. Certainly not a secular state with a thriving economy. And without English as the only national language, Indians would not be as successful as they are.

"Outsiders often think these changes to be superficial as millions of Indians still live below the poverty line; almost half of its children grow up malnourished," he continues. Without wanting to be a spoil-sport, I must say that this sort of destroys his claims of India as a "successful and modern secular democracy".

A story in a broadsheet recently described the billions a single entrepreneur was spending on a palatial home in Mumbai while just nearby poor citizens live in a slum that dwarfs in its spread, many Western cities.

I'm sorry, Abhay, but your wooden prose and outdated opinions just don't entice me to read chapter one.

Monday 11 June 2007

The first I heard of Meanjin's crisis of identity was in Rosemary Sorensen's piece in The Australian. Today there's a piece by Steve Meacham in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Meacham goes further than Sorensen, and even interviews an academic, Ken Gelder, a professor of literary studies at Melbourne Uni. He implies that it's "a storm in a literary teacup".

It seems what Ian Britain, the literary magazine's editor, thinks is the main shortcoming of moving under the wing of Melbourne University Press is that he and his assistant will lose their "physical independence". Britain says that no other comparable journal is housed thus. His examples are Granta (circulation 50,000) and The New Yorker (circulation 1 million). Meanjin's circulation is 2000.

Melbourne Uni's VC, Glyn Davis, says "Meanjin always has been, and will continue to be, led by an independent editorial board".

Britain is also scared Louise Adler, the chief executive of Melbourne University Press, wants "to move Meanjin online". Adler "told The Age's literary editor, Jason Steger, she had no intention of scrapping the print edition and that Meanjin's editor would remain independent".

Frank Moorhouse weighed into the debate on 3 June with an opinion piece in The Age.

Moorhouse notes that Meanjin's circulation "has increased from about 1400 when [Britain] took over six years ago". But the nine literary magazines funded by the Australia Council have "a combined, single-issue distribution of about 32,000".

Moorhouse says Britain "sees the printed magazine as an enduring aesthetic artefact and the primary format for serious writing". Moorhouse says that "The physical, published magazine is a great aesthetic form, but it should interlock with other platforms".

He lauds the model used by Griffith Review.

[Julianne Schultz, editor of the Griffith Review]'s model is to interlock the magazine with other platforms - some of the content of the magazine is available free online, some is syndicated to newspapers, and through her partnership with the ABC, there is use of the magazine content on ABC radio. Each issue sponsors public events, with face-to-face discussion between contributors and readers.

I think the future is the GR model. The last essay I wrote for GR involved me in 10 public events, five radio interviews, and was syndicated in part in The Australian, the PEN magazine, and was republished in full in a law journal. The physical, published magazine is a great aesthetic form, but it should interlock with other platforms, following the GR pattern. Which brings us to the internet and its role.

Moorhouse flags the death of ideology: "Any style distinction is now more likely to come not from a grouping of writers exclusively around one magazine with a fiery manifesto, but through the selectivity and creativity of editorship."

And there is something Moorhouse tacks onto the end of his piece that is unrelated to the main thrust of this post, but it is interesting for me. He says:

Finally, I want to say this. A great literary magazine, online or printed, is constantly alert to the vulnerability of freedom of speech, not only when it is threatened by the state but also when the quality of freedom of speech is damaged by intellectual laziness, intellectual intimidation, easy certainties, and all the fashionable sensitivities and peer pressures that creep into our social communication.

The best of our literary magazines fight this fight.

In April, I mentioned that publisher Knopf (a Random House imprint) would reissue his "complete backlist". I asked publisher Meredith Curnow by email if The Illegal Relatives would be included in the plan. She didn't even know it existed.

To a post on Susan Wyndham's Undercover blog, I appended this comment:

To quote Frank in 'The Adelaide Review', July 1997:

"This power (censorship) to decide what people may or may not say to each other directly denies to an individual the opportunity to judge and assess for themselves."

A decision not to publish 'The Illegal Relatives' would be an act of self-censorship going against much that the author himself has been saying to the Australian public in many fora for nigh on thirty years.

Saturday 9 June 2007

David Scott Mitchell (1836 - 1907) was the founder of the first research library in Australia, the foundation stone being laid in 1906. His 40,000 volumes and a generous bequest of 70,000 pounds, have ensured that the Mitchell Library (which is a part of the State Library of New South Wales, but is dinstinct from it) provides valuable information for researchers, filmmakers, authors, journalists and many other people.

Steve Meacham's feature on Mitchell coincides with a new exhibition at the State Library of NSW due to open on 18 June: A Grand Obsession: The D. S. Mitchell Story.

Mitchell's father was a Scott from Fifeshire who speculated successfully in Hunter Valley real estate, where coal has been mined for over a century.

Meacham's article provides a glimpse into a rich legacy of biliophilia in the fledgling nation. Mitchell "went out every Monday morning to inspect the bookshops", says Paul Brunton, who curated the new exhibition. Some of the names known to Mitchell are still with us: David Angus and George Robertson, William Dymock and James Tyrrell. Tyrrell's shut a few years ago, but the others remain solvent.

Mitchell was among the first intake of students at Sydney Uni in 1852, graduating in 1856. But he never practised law. As soon as his father died, he sold his law books then, when his mother died, he moved his residence to Kings Cross. He lived there for the rest of his life.

Today the Mitchell Library consists of 570,000 books and magazines (Sydney Uni's Fisher Library, also founded with a bequest, holds over 5 million, making it the largest library in the southern hemisphere). It also has 11,500 metres of manuscripts, over a million photographs, over 100,000 maps, 2000 paintings, 130,000 prints and drawings, and 3000 historical objects.

His fixation on Australiana is explained by aspiration, says Brunton. "[H]e knew it was an area in which he could become the world's leading collector in a way he never could in, say, Elizabethan drama (another of his great passions)." Brunton also says Mitchell was patriotic. Although rich, he never travelled overseas.

Before he died, he paid 5000 pounds for the collection of a competitor in collecting, Alfred Lee. Most of its books he already owned, but Mitchell wanted "a few items", says Brunton, which "were crucial pieces", including Sir Joseph Banks' handwritten journal, which the naturalist kept while on the Endeavour.

Apparently Mitchell read all of the books he owned. "Visitors (to Mitchell's home) said he had an intimate knowledge of all the books in his collection."

Friday 8 June 2007

A canonical 'narrative' emerged in the media when the Pasha Bulker, a very large coal transport waiting off the port of Newcastle, ran aground this morning at around 9am. Highly inclement weather caused the grounding, with strong winds churning the sea into a maelstrom.

Today's rain and wind follows bruising rain yesterday morning, turning to hail breifly in my front yard. When I told my colleagues I wanted to go to a talk this afternoon the first thing they said was that it was a bad day for it. Regardless, I went.

Kate Crawford, the speaker, was on a panel at the recent Sydney Writers' Festival. She also won a non-fiction award in December for her book, Adult Themes: Rewriting the Rules of Adulthood.

Her talk today in the Refectory at Sydney Uni's Quad was titled Bad Adults: The Cultural Politics of Growing Up. It was very interesting. Why do some young people refuse to buy into the standard-issue preoccupations of grown-ups, she asked. Getting a mortgage, starting a family, working on a career.

Some things we take for granted — things that are 'normative' — have no interest for these young people who are, derogatarily, dubbed 'adultescents' in the media. But home ownership, she avers, is a very recent aspiration, dating from the post-war years. The Menzies government deliberately encouraged people to own their own homes in an effort to stymie Communist sympathies. Hansard bears her out, it seems.

The title of her talk echoes a book published in 1997 by Catharine Lumby: Bad Girls: The Media, Sex and Feminism in the 90s. Lumby, a founder of the media program at Sydney Uni, was compere tonight. She also chaired question time.

After the talk, we gathered round a few bottles of wine, discussing Paris Hilton.

Today's downpour is extremely atypical. Australia has borne severe drought for most of the past decade. Urban catchments have harvested a welcome and fulsome influx. The rain reestablished the classical narrative in the nightly news. A tanker aground. Helicopter rescue of the 22 Philippino crew. Emergency team members join each other to celebrate with a hug the timely rescue.

But despite the satisfaction of the canonical 'narrative' that the ship's story sets up, we are comforted by the perennial visage of Alan Kohler, the ABC's finance guru, telling us that the stock market had slipped during the day. Given the prevailing economic climate, it will resume its rise next week, after Monday's Queen's Birthday holiday.

Thursday 7 June 2007

No more of this book sale, I promise myself, frequently, but return in anticipation of new discoveries. At 50 per cent off the sticker price, many of these books are very cheap indeed. One, a 1500-page anthology of Romantic writings, was a steal at $15. Edited by Duncan Wu, it has been a text book used at Sydney Uni.

Among the others are a novel by Kate Grenville, a history of the microchip in the form of literary journalism, two books on media relations, a novel by Richard Powers, one by Kingsley Amis, and Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days.

More serious perhaps, but definitely to my taste, are such as the pictured book, which is a study of portraiture from 1780 to 1830. I am extremely partial to books about the Early Romantic period. Jane Austen was alive for most of this span, for starters, so each new work supplies reference material for a more critical reading of her wonderful novels.

There's also a study of literature, ancient to modern, by Harold Bloom: Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?. Also an anthology of Katherine Mansfield's writings. This New Zealand author is known to me, but only as a name. Finally there's a collection of essays about Early Modern and Modern intellectual history. Yum.

Wednesday 6 June 2007

More books banned in Malaysia, reports The New Straits Times. Sharon at Bibliobibuli picked it up first, as usual.

They include Geraldine Brooks' Nine Parts of Desire. Brooks lived in the Middle East for many years before she wrote the book. National censor Che Din Yusoh says it, and the other 36 titles banned, were subject to the prohibition order "because their contents and text on Islam twisted facts and true Islamic teachings or contained elements that misled the faithful and humiliated the prophets".

"These publications can cause confusion and apprehension among Muslims and eventually jeopardise public order," he added.

This kind of meaningless and sensationalist speech is designed to mislead. As is that of Silma Ihram, a representative of the Australian Council of Islamic Education in Schools, who got an opinion piece published in today's The Sydney Morning Herald.

He attacks Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch woman now resident in the U.S., who spoke at the Sydney Writers' Festival recently. "Calling for the abolition of Muslim schools and insulting the prophet of one of the world's great religions contributes little in the way of positive solutions to very real problems existing throughout the Muslim world."

He says she "has an axe to grind" which "is understandable" due to the physical harm and social restrictions placed on her by her parents and guardians as a young girl. But her words, he says, are "not productive".

This kind of managerial double-speak may make sense to some readers, but in conjunction with the Malay ban, it simply says to me that he would do the same as them if given the chance. Anything to protect the prophet and "one of the world's great religions".

How can a religion be great if its supporters must resort to egregious prohibitions in an effort to buttress it against the creeping modernisation the mullahs fear?
Readers: If you can't join 'em, beat 'em. Without putting too fine a point on it, this seems to be Rosemary Neill's position vis a vis literature. Especially Australian literature.

Neill participated in a discussion on 3 June with a writer, a culture bureaucrat, a publisher and the leader of an NGO. 'Are we neglecting Australian Literature?' was the question and of course Neill answered in the affirmative, according to her colleague Deborah Hope. 'Thanks Deb!' (I can hear Rosemary chuckle).

Neill's attack on the literary establishment bagan in December with two stories in the one issue of The Australian, where she and Hope both work in the culture department. (The newspaper is notorious for being right-wing as well as combative, but this should be obvious from my words.)

Her initial attack was on the academy. I suggested an alternative reason: "The problem may lie elsewhere: lack of interest among students, and the problem of funding, in an age when the federal government is steadily reducing the amount of money that it provides to universities."

If you want to read what she wrote, do a search on this blog using her name.

In March, Neill had more ammunition: the outgoing chair of Australian literature at Sydney Uni, Elizabeth Webby. She used it. I summarised Webby's observations: "Webby blames the decline in interest in Australian literature studies on the government, postmodernism and the Internet."

Well, one out of three isn't bad.

A week or so later, I reported that Robert Dixon, the incoming chair of Australian literature at Sydney Uni had been interviewed for a rather more staid publication: the alumni magazine of Sydney Uni. But he also got his words into The Australian. My summation?

"This [global outlook] seems a lot more useful and reflective of the reality in the country at present, than imposing artificial boundaries that are evidence only of a parochial attutide toward literature and culture in general."

Neill's position is close to that of Perry at Matilda, a blog which is determinedly parochial, covering only Australian books and authors. He recently picked up a remark I made in a comment and expanded it into something like a rant, titled 'A Balanced Diet'. My point, in fact, was that the material being consumed by him, and so forcefully endorsed by Neill, was anything but. "Are you so tightly wrapped in the flag?" I asked.

My position on this 'debate' in the media, or rather this crusade of Neill's, is to point to the huge and growing volume of quality literature that is being published all over the globe. U.S. litbloggers are ever eager to point to efforts to get more translated books published, so that they can enjoy the work of foreign authors.

What Neill doesn't seem to understand is that Australians are, now, an extremely globalised bunch. Over a million of us work overseas, for a start. Our horizons are broad, and we graze widely in our search for the primest experiences available. They may be available in Australia, but it's unlikely.

More likely is that we will continue to look outward, toward the far horizons that beckon.

Tuesday 5 June 2007

London's $A954,000 Olympic logo has attracted some flak, reports Scott Casey for the I think the "disfigured swastika" epithet is somewhat harsh and, moreover, I can say honestly that I very much like it.

It reminds me of the iconic work of Neville Brody, the star designer of the eighties (when I was at uni as an undergrad). This is a design he did for a record sleeve in 1985. The eighties must be worth a relook, at least in 2012, when the London games will take place.

China had it easy, because of the rich legacy it possesses. Chinese characters, especially the 'old-fashioned' ones being exploited in their logo(s), have a unique appeal, and signal to the country's ancient achievements. Such as printing (pity they did nothing with it).

London's logo certainly does more for me than Sydney's, although the boomerang motif is rather clever. But this kind of stylised running figure is, and was, commonplace. London has gone back in time for its inspiration, to a period I am intimately familiar with.

The logo's rocky reception is not necessarily a bad thing, furthermore. Any press is better than complete silence. I believe that with time the design will earn peoples' respect, and will even come to be admired.

Monday 4 June 2007

Ayaan Hirsi Ali gets her closing address to the Sydney Writers' Festival, edited to fit, in the 'Opinion' page of The Sydney Morning Herald.

She describes her journey from a traditional Muslim household, via the trash fiction she read as a girl, to studying Freud in Amsterdam, as a refugee. As "a rebellious teenager" she and her sister "discovered the power of words". It's a humanist's ideal scenario for the Third World.

Some of the books had no covers, for they had been in too many hands, but those with covers generally showed a man bending over a woman, with his mouth on hers and their bodies entwined.

We tore these covers off and, if questioned, would claim that these books were required school reading.

As soon as it was demanded that she marry a cousin who "had the Holy Book on his side", she left. In Amsterdam "there were no clans, no tribes, not one but several holy books".

I read their books, about how religious they had been; how they had evolved towards secularism. How they had pushed God from public life.

Freud, whose writings offered "an alternative moral system", was a revelation. "I had never once imagined that a moral framework could exist that wasn't based on religion."

It was a sacrilege to read these things, she avers: "Almost every page I read challenged me as a Muslim. To read these books was sinning."

After 11 September 2001, she realised that bin Laden's "words of justification" were in the Koran.

The little box at the back of mind, where I had stuffed all my dissonant thoughts, snapped open, and it refused to close. I had to make the leap to believing the Holy Book was relative - not absolute, not the literal syllables pronounced by God, but a historical record, written by men 150 years after the Prophet Muhammad's death. In other words, it was just another book.

This is a journey that many make in the West.

In my case, growing up in a family where my mother's father had been a Communist, and my father was a man who ridiculed "sky pilots", it was not difficult to deny revealed truth in the gospels. But the school I attended was Anglican, and my grandmother went every Sunday to church.

We also went to summer camps run by the church, where the guardians were religious men.

But we survived. Compared to Hirsi Ali's journey, mine was simple.
Chinese writers and Chinese publishing were featured on the Special Broadcasting Corporation's (SBS) 6.30 News tonight. Unfortunately, as it was a feature segment, no transcript or vodcast is available on the Web site.

Because of the Sydney Writers' Festival, which is showcasing a number of Chinese authors, SBS was able to interview several men and one woman. Self-censorship is de rigeur, it seems. "You know which topics you can't touch," said one writer. Sex is taboo, for example. Chinese authorities are trying to clamp down on online pornography, we can read in other places.

Australian books are being published in China, including Peter Carey's. And there's a Chinese publisher's representative in Australia now, looking for new titles to sell in the repressive state.

Likewise, our publishers go to China to find authors whose work suits our market. Chinese literature is a growth segment, we learn.

Sunday 3 June 2007

A few unrecognised classics may be among 59 of "The Best Novels You’ve Never Read", a list compiled by New York magazine writer Katie Charles for the 4 June issue. This kind of thing always intrigues me, so I've decided to transcribe the list here more, frankly, for future reference of my own than for yours.

I mean, the best thing to do would be to add them all to my BookMooch wishlist, wouldn't it? I've had some trouble with the wishlist recently, as one book keeps being available, but by the time I've clicked to mooch it, it's gone.

To compile this list, Charles approached the National Book Critics Circle for names of people who could make a recommendation that would possess some gravitas. These "professional critics (and some other writers)" gave their opinions. The winner, who only got two votes, was David Markson, author of The Last Novel and Vanishing Point.

I've added some value to the list by placing entries in alphabetical order. I also added information about the author's provenance. Considering the source of the pundits, it's not surprising that most of these writers (40 of 59) are American.

* Jeffery Renard Allen (American who "earned his PhD in English from the University of Chicago") Rails Under My Back
* Jonathan Ames (American) The Extra Man
* Martin Amis (we all know who he is) Experience
* Ellis Avery (American) The Teahouse Fire

* Calvin Baker (American "born in Chicago and graduated from Amherst College") Dominion
* Jesse Ball (American) Samedi the Deafness
* Russell Banks (American) The Darling
* Jonathan Baumbach (American) On the Way to My Father's Funeral
* Charles Baxter (American) A Relative Stranger
* Madison Smartt Bell (American) Master of the Crossroads
* Judy Budnitz (American who was "born in 1973 and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. She attended Harvard University, was a fellow at Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and received an MFA in creative writing from New York University in 1998") Nice Big American Baby
* Aldo Buzzi (Italian born in 1910!) Journey to the Land of Flies and Other Travels

* Patrick Chamoiseau (Mexican) Texaco
* Elizabeth Cook Achilles
* John Cornwell (English) Seminary Boy

* Helen Dewitt (American) The Last Samurai
* Geoff Dyer (English) Out of Sheer Rage

* Leslie Epstein (American) San Remo Drive
* Bernardine Evaristo (English/Nigerian) The Emperor's Babe

* Kathleen Finneran (American) The Tender Land: A Family Love Story
* Leon Forrest (African-American) Meteor in the Madhouse
David Fulmer (American) Rampart Street

* Mavis Gallant (Canadian) Varieties of Exile
* C.S. Godshalk (American) Kalimantaan
* Abdulrazak Gurnah ("born in 1948 in Zanzibar, Tanzania") Desertion

* Ron Hansen (American) Mariette in Ecstacy
* Jim Harrison (American) The Road Home
* J. M. Hayes (American) Prairie Gothic
* Robert Hellenga ("grew up in Three Oaks, Michigan") The Fall of A Sparrow
* Andrew Holleran (American) Grief
* Andrew Huebner (American) We Pierce

* Gary Indiana (American) Do Everything in the Dark

* Hari Kunzru (of mixed English and Kashmiri Pandit ancestry) Transmission

* John Lanchester (English) The Debt to Pleasure
* J. Robert Lennon (American) Mailman
* Kelly Link (American) Stranger Things Happen
* Sam Lipsyte (American) Home Land
* Margot Livesey ("born in Perth, Scotland") Banishing Verona

* Javier Marías (Spanish) Dark Back of Time
* John McGahern (Irish) The Lake
* Lydia Millet (American) Oh Pure and Radiant Heart
* Antonio Muñoz Molina (Spanish) Sepharad

* Kem Nunn (American) Tapping the Source

* George Pelecanos (American) Drama City
* Giuseppe Pontiggia (Italian) Born Twice

* Elwood Reid (American) What Salmon Know
* Maggie Robbins ("works as a psychotherapist for adults and children in New York City") Suzie Zeus Gets Organised
* Norman Rush (American) Motals

* James Salter (American) Last Night
* Robert M. Sapolsky (American academic) A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons
* Barbara Seranella (American, now deceased) The Munch Mancini Mystery Series
* Carol Shields (American-born Canadian) Unless
* Ali Smith The Accidental
* Olen Steinhauer (American) The Confession; Liberation Movements

* Curtis White (American) Memories of My Father Watching TV
* Jincy Willett (American) Winner of the National Book Award
* Meg Wolitzer (American) The Wife
* Stephen Wright (American who was "educated at the U.S. Army Intelligence School and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop") The Amalgamation Polka

* Akira Yoshimura (Duh) Shipwrecks

Thanks to Currajah for the heads-up.

Saturday 2 June 2007

Toyota's Hybrid X concept car delivers "Vibrant Clarity":

a design ethos grounding all design work in a unique and emotionally vibrant identity that speaks clearly of Toyota

The car looks as if the design model was the Yaris, Toyota's current small-size offering worldwide, and which was designed in France ("styled at Toyota’s European design studio, ED² and Toyota Motor Corporation Design Division"). The Yaris builds on the success of the Echo, which was designed by a Greek ("Sotiris Kovos ... a graduate of the renowned London Royal College of Art"). I bought a 1.3-litre Echo automatic in September 2005, the last year it was sold.

Toyota looks better all the time, and recently overtook General Motors in terms of volume, to become the largest car-maker in the world.

A Hybrid X would have been nice for me to use today. I left home around noon because of an invitation to a party out at Seven Hills, a suburb in the west near Blacktown. I took the M4 from Strathfield. A leisurely 40 minutes' drive, staying well below the 90km/h limit.

I've never seen so much food. The invitation was from a colleague who's son just turned one. Mainly Philippinos were there all, now, integrated into the mainstream of Australian society. They would have loved to see a brand-new Hybrid X in the parking lot.

Friday 1 June 2007

Westfield's public relations is the subject of my final assignment for unit MECO 6908 in semester one: Strategy Selection in Corporate PR. It seems as though it won't be offered in semester two, as there's now no mention of it on the master's program Web page.

I've chosen to present the findings of all groups, who sent questionnaires to various Westfield stakeholders in an attempt to understand the company's PR strategies, in the form of a report to the board of directors, with recommendations. Other options would have been to do a report to a competitor, or to a blogger.

It's not due until 15 June, but I've decided to complete it early, to leave time for the final assignment for my other semester one unit: Media Discourse. This one is conducted by Prof Jim Martin, who works in the university's Linguistics Department. The mid-term assignment required an analysis of a two-page feature, using methodologies and terms learned in the first half of the semester. My grade for the paper was an astonishing 95 per cent.

The final assignment for LNGS 7274 is due on 18 June. It takes the form of a critical discourse analysis of two items of news covering the same story. I've chosen one print item, from The Australian, and one podcast video from The Sydney Morning Herald's Web site. Both items cover the recent sale of Steve Vizard's Melbourne mansion, which netted the convicted insider-trader a cool $18 million.