Archive

How complex a task it is to write the biography of a writer. For writers, whose daily business is making things up, the truest experience may be one they have imagined. All biographers need to be storytellers and private detectives, but the biographer of a writer must also be a literary critic, must account for how the work relates to the life and escapes the life; beyond this, how the experience of writing it might change how the author apprehends those other parts of experience, called facts.

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One of the most disconcerting aspects of the 2010 election campaign was the intrusion of former prime ministers and aspirants to that post. Liberals had tired of Malcolm Fraser’s interventions long before he decided not to renew his membership of the party. Labor supporters did not welcome another round of bickering between Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. The interventions of Mark Latham were hardly edifying.

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My Brilliant Career, the book Miles Franklin published in 1901 when she was twenty-one, cast a shadow over her entire life. It sold well and made her famous for a time, but it did not lead to the publication of more works. The glittering literary career foretold by the critics did not eventuate, at least in Franklin’s opinion. ‘The thing that puzzles me,’ she wrote to Mary Fullerton on New Year’s Day, 1929, ‘is how are we to know whether we are a dud or not at the beginning; I mean how long should a poor creature smitten with the egotism that he can write, keep on in face of rebuffs’.

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The terrorist attacks of 9/11, and the loosely related jihadi Islamist terrorist attacks that followed in a dozen countries, have left the world more afraid than ever of Islam. Modern terrorism is not the only factor. The West has long had a problem with Islam. This perception dates back a full millennium to a time when Europe was in its dark ages and Islamic civilisation was blossoming. From the beginning, Western anxiety about Islam has been based on almost total ignorance. Well before there was any substantial contact between Europeans and Muslims, Islam was an imagined ‘other’ automatically cast as the opposite of everything that the ‘Christian West’ claimed as its legacy.

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Australian war historians usually find their theme in the army. Mike Carlton, a well-known journalist, thinks it is time to praise the Australian warship Perth and its men: ‘They were the flower of Australia’s greatest generation. No other has been so tested.’

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Brisbane by Matthew Condon

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October 2010, no. 325

Novelist Gilbert Parker’s appraisal of Brisbane, penned during his visit in 1889 and quoted by Matthew Condon in this new, impressionistic history of the city, is not one that Condon wants to repeat, yet is powerless to refute: ‘Brisbane is not the least poetical … There is a sense of disappointment, which grows deeper as the sojourn in the capital is continued.’

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Few who saw them will forget the grainy newspaper images of Australian drug traffickers Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers. Despite high-level diplomatic pleas from the Australian government, they were hanged at Pudu jail in Kuala Lumpur in July 1986 for possessing 180 grams of heroin. In the post-execution mêlée, their bodies were concealed by blankets, but one foot was casually left uncovered. The poignancy of those toes was heart-rending, their vulnerability encapsulating the brutal and ruthless efficiency of law in that region of South-East Asia.

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Ernest Gowers is remembered, if at all, for the writings on the English language which he undertook towards the end of his life. In 1948, at the request of the British Treasury, he wrote a small book called Plain Words. It was intended for the use of civil servants, not all of whom appreciated it, but it attracted a far wider audience, sold in huge numbers, and has never been out of print. An expanded version, entitled The Complete Plain Words, appeared in 1954. Subsequently, the Clarendon Press asked Gowers to produce a revised edition of H.W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1926). He laboured on the task for nine years, completing it at the age of eighty-five.

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Grimsdon by Deborah Abela & Quillblade: Voyages of the Flying Dragon, Book One by Ben Chandler

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October 2010, no. 325

Twelve-year-old Isabella and her best friend, Griffin, have been keeping themselves and three younger children alive in Grimsdon since a massive wave flooded the city three years ago

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On Evil by Terry Eagleton

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October 2010, no. 325

One of the more robust responses to what has come to be called the New Atheism has been that of the influential literary critic Terry Eagleton. He weighed into the argument early with an aggressive and widely cited critique of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (2006) in the London Review of Books, in which he charged Dawkins with theological ignorance. He extended his argument in a series of lectures, published as Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God debate (2009), which condemned the atheist movement for its allegiance to an outdated form of nineteenth-century positivism and for its optimistic belief in the virtues of progressive liberal humanism. His latest book, On Evil, is a kind of supplement to the debate, in which he attempts to drive home what he considers the naïveté of such a view.

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