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Review

The second edition of Kathryn Kalinak’s modestly titled Film Music: A very short introduction arrives thirteen years after the publication of its predecessor, extending its chronology of film music from the inception of cinema in the late nineteenth century to 2022. What makes it unique is the global reach of its documentation of significant events and developments in film music history. This offers a broad coverage from countries and cultures other than Hollywood and the West, and illustrates how practices and ideals vary globally.

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Slipstream is both a memoir and an essay on migration. It hangs upon the story of one family, who migrated from Yorkshire (where this book was published) to Sydney in 1949. The narrator was their first-born in the new land and, as she tells it, her life has been one of constant oscillation, both emotional and physical, between England and Australia. It is a tale of her parents’ ‘exile’ and her ‘returns’ – to the country she only ever knew in stories, as she was growing up, but which became ingrained in her imagination.

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Marina Kamenev’s Kin begins with a calmly unadorned outline of the nuclear family’s recent fortunes. In the space of just a few pages, she gives a condensed tour of the concept’s history, concluding with US historian Stephanie Coontz’s suggestion that the nuclear family is a ‘historical fluke’ – one that has, as Kamenev puts it, ‘been idolised long after its use-by date’. The introduction’s mini-tour prefigures, in capsule form, both the book’s thematic emphases and its guiding rhetorical procedures. As Kin’s chapters move through their discussions of the moral panics that accompany non-nuclear family structures, from same-sex parenthood to chosen childlessness to single-parent families, the book reveals that the real moral hazards of reproductive technology lie not in deviations from the nuclear model but in attempts to impose the model where it doesn’t fit.

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Those Roman emperors were a funny lot: Nero with his lyre, Caligula with his speedy horse; Elagabalus with his whoopee cushion (what japes he played on guests who came to dinner!). Mary Beard’s new book spills the tea on all the well-known eccentric autocrats who ruled the Roman world. And what a bunch of oddities they were. Hard to believe that they could have wielded so much power so effectively for so long. Yet Beard’s book is not really about the tittle-tattle. It is, above all, about the idea of Rome’s emperor: that fictitious, hypocritical, and probably accidental conceit by which Octavian/Augustus contrived to be something other than a conventional king. Beard’s answer to the apparent paradox of so many weird mediocrities wielding supreme power is that Roman autocracy was, from its first moment, an act, even a sham. ‘One-man rule’ required a huge supporting, and colluding, cast – from wives and mothers to senators, slaves, and freedmen. Beard explains how the pretence was kept up during its supposedly golden phase: from Actium in 27 bce to Alexander Severus’s murder in 235 ce. Fans of ancient history will certainly enjoy her prose.

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The photograph arrives while I am reading Dave Witty’s What the Trees See. A tree’s branch close-up, outer brown-red bark peeled back to smooth and brilliant green. A friend, spotting it on Quandamooka Country in Minjerribah, North Stradbroke Island, has been understandably stopped in her tracks. Framed intimately like this, its shape and textures suggest warm musculature: lean in, you will be held. This beautiful creature.

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Those accustomed to dismissing video games as frivolities may be alarmed to discover that, on a global scale, gaming generates more revenue than the film, music and book industries combined, by an order of magnitude. Games have become the dominant cultural force. We have come a long way since Space Invaders. Despite this prevalence and influence, there is a paucity of writing on gaming. Notable exceptions are Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (2022) and Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (2011), now joined by Carmen Maria Machado and J. Robert Lennon’s welcome collection of essays exploring the societal impact of the form.

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Mishearing by David Musgrave & AfterLife by Kathryn Lomer

by
March 2024, no. 462

Mishearing, David Musgrave’s latest, most experimental poetry collection, arose from deliberately generated ‘mishearings’ of poems he read into Microsoft Word’s 2003 in-built speech recognition software. The software was by default ‘trained’ to a North American accent. Musgrave didn’t reprogram to an Australian accent, held the microphone at changing distances from his mouth, occasionally smothered it, and introduced ambient noise to heighten the software’s mistranscription. He read from the work of various poets, ranging from Dorothea Mackellar to Seamus Heaney, and an extract from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Making multiple readings of the same poem, Musgrave grabbed selected line transcriptions to construct each ‘misheard’ poem.

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With a title like Ghosts of Paradise, it is no surprise that Stephen Edgar’s latest poetry collection is haunted by loss, mutability, and mortality – the great traditional themes of elegiac poetry. But Edgar’s poetry has long, if not always, been characteristically elegiac. In this new collection, Edgar’s first since winning the Prime Minister’s Award for poetry in 2021 (and his first for Pitt Street Poetry), the poems are haunted by the poet’s late parents, late fellow poets (especially W.B. Yeats, but also the Australian poet Robert Adamson, for whom there is an elegy), and ancient poetic forms, such as the sonnet. The collection also includes meditations on ageing, corpses, and photographs (including Roland Barthes’ ‘theory / That every photo is a memento mori’). An interest in the intertwining of memory, embodiment, and visual representation is powerfully realised in ‘Still Life’, in which the memory of a trip to Broken Hill is

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There is a moment early on in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953) – think of it as the novel’s opening gambit, the disturbance which sets its plot in motion – when the impish Clarisse McClellan attempts to rouse the book’s stolid and otherwise self-possessed protagonist, Guy Montag, from the partial oblivion in which he lives his life. She shadows him on his walk home from work one evening, verbally prodding him in the hope of puncturing what is evidently less a form of sincere conviction than it is a state of unthinkingness. After Montag rebuffs her questions one time too many, Clarisse finally complains, ‘You never stop to think what I’ve asked you.’

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‘The personal is political’ is an axiom that has become ubiquitous. Normally used within the context of feminist activism, in Yumna Kassab’s latest novel – for which it serves as the epigraph – it is a reminder of the human sacrifice of war and how every part of a civilian’s life reflects its surroundings.

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