The strength of comic strips, like poetry, can derive from concise language and startling images. With Bulk Nuts, the latest addition to Mandy Ord’s long list of autobiographical comics and graphic novels, the Melbourne cartoonist attains a new level in her work. One of the ways she does this is by cutting back on words and presenting more considered, finished drawings. Through verbal economy and graphic surety, this collection of comic strips directs our flow of reading deftly from word to image and back again. Several stories end with the light gravity of a haiku or the hesitancy of e.e cummings.
Algorithmic Intimacy: The digital revolution in personal relationships by Anthony Elliott
In May 2021, scientists at Woebot Health, a US-based artificial intelligence company, published a paper titled ‘Evidence of Human-Level Bonds Established with a Digital Conversational Agent’. Reading it back then, I felt like a door had suddenly opened from nowhere. But not just any door: this one led directly to a passage into human inner life and one of its most intimate dimensions: the nature and experience of emotional bonding.
Ruth Mackenzie has more than forty years’ experience in the arts world. A former director of Holland Festival, Manchester International Festival, and Chichester Festival, Mackenzie oversaw the official cultural program for the 2012 London Olympics and was Artistic Director for the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. She also worked on the first Manchester International Festival as General Director, as Dramaturg for the Vienna Festival, and has directed the Scottish Opera and major theatres in Nottingham and Chichester. She is Artistic Director of the Adelaide Festival, with responsibility for the festivals from 2024 to 2026.
The defeat of the proposal in the recent Aboriginal constitutional referendum was unsurprising given the forces at work, which I discussed in ‘A Referendum in Trouble’ (ABR, July 2023). Most importantly, it lacked the support of the Liberal and National parties once their leaders decided to oppose it, largely for partisan purposes.
Australia's Pivot to India by Andrew Charlton
In April 1990, Australia’s high commissioner to New Delhi, Graham Feakes, was in the final year of a six-year posting. Still regarded as one of Australia’s finest diplomats, he had worked tirelessly to invigorate a relationship that had been allowed to drift aimlessly for decades. Under his watch, in 1986 Rajiv Gandhi made the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Australia in almost two decades. Bob Hawke reciprocated shortly afterwards. Ministerial commissions and senior level officials’ groups were established. Aid was set to increase.
Thirty years ago, wanting to probe deeper into the question of what it meant to make home in Tasmania, I enrolled to do my honours year at the University of Tasmania. During a discussion with the secretary of the History Department about my partially formed dissertation ideas, she urged me to read a thesis by a recent graduate whose work had greatly impressed her: one Richard Flanagan. When I read the thesis and the book that came out of it, the result can best be described as a soul shift. It was not so much the information I gained but that Flanagan’s approach to Tasmania’s past released an imaginative flow in my own research, allowing it to slowly metamorphose over fifteen years into my first book, Van Diemen’s Land. I share this anecdote, not just to highlight what was lost when universities sacked most of their administrative staff, but to show how seriously Richard Flanagan has always taken history.
Prima Facie by Suzie Miller
Suzie Miller’s play Prima Facie is one of Australia’s most celebrated literary exports of recent years. After an award-winning run of performances in Australia, a production helmed by Killing Eve star Jodie Comer triumphed in London’s West End and on Broadway, garnering deserved accolades for Comer as well as a coveted Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2023.
Ralph Ellison could be abrasive. His biographer Arnold Rampersad records that James Baldwin thought Ellison ‘the angriest man he knew’. Shirley Hazzard observed that when Ellison was drinking he ‘could become obnoxious very quickly’. His friend Albert Murray recognised something in him that was ‘potentially violent, very violent. He was ready to take on people and use whatever street corner language they understood. He was ready to fight, to come to blows. You really didn’t want to mess with Ralph Ellison.’
What the authors of these three wildly different books share is a gift for creating through language a kind of intimacy of presence, as though they were in the room with you. Emily Wilson’s much-awaited translation of The Iliad (W.W. Norton & Company) is a gorgeous, hefty hardback with substantial authorial commentary that manages to be both scholarly and engaging. The poem is translated into effortless-looking blank verse that reads like music. The Running Grave (Sphere) by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling), the seventh novel in the Cormoran Strike crime series and one of the best so far, features Rowling’s gift for the creation of memorable characters and a cracking plot about a toxic religious cult. Charlotte Wood’s Stone Yard Devotional (Allen & Unwin, reviewed in this issue of ABR) lingers in the reader’s mind, with the haunting grammar of its title, the restrained artistry of its structure, and the elusive way that it explores modes of memory, grief, and regret.