Cambridge University Press

Australian Documentary: History, Practices, Genres by Trish FitzSimons, Pat Laughren, and Dugald Williamson

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May 2011, no. 331

The concept of ‘documentary’ is a slippery customer. It may start with John Grierson’s ‘creative treatment of actuality’, but, like holding water in your hand, it bleeds across media from film into television and digital media, and across modes in one direction into news reporting and in the other into docudrama ...

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At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds ...

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The Cambridge Companion to English Novelists by Adrian Poole & The Cambridge Companion to the Twentieth-Century English Novel edited by Robert L. Caserio

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April 2011, no. 330

While spying in Scotland in 1706, Daniel Defoe wrote a letter to the queen’s secretary of state explaining his technique: ‘I Talk to Everybody in Their Own Way.’ In his energetic and instructive introduction to The Cambridge Companion to English Novelists, Adrian Poole takes Defoe’s declaration as a neat summation of the novelist’s method. It was following the success of Robinson Crusoe that the word ‘novelist’ was first recorded in the OED, heralding an art form whose great virtue has been its receptivity to all kinds of experience, its mimicry of all manner of voices: rich, poor, black, white, male, female.

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If any book market is nearing saturation, it must be the Nietzsche one, yet new titles keep appearing. Julian Young’s biography, Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, is unusual, given the author’s academic repute as a Nietzsche scholar. Young acutely surveys Nietzsche’s life, while offering erudite accounts of his philosophy. As Young observes in explaining Nietzsche’s own self-referential style, ‘biographies sweeten the hard-to-swallow pill of philosophy’, and this is also true of Young’s book. Moreover, while Young clearly loves Nietzsche, this book is not written in the sycophantic style that is common of the genre (Nietzsche’s philosophy is criticised in many places, as is Nietzsche himself).

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‘A peculiar bloke, Jack; you never knew him. You couldn’t get close to him.’ Reg Pollard, who was one of the abler members of the Labor Caucus in the 1940s, confessed his puzzlement to Lloyd Ross as Curtin’s biographer gathered personal testimony ...

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In A Fundamental Fear (1997), Bobby Sayyid wrote about the spectre of Islam haunting the West. Important to this ‘hauntology’ is Muhammad: the last prophet of Islam. From the English chronicler Venerable Bede, Thomas Aquinas, and Martin Luther to the Pentagon’s defence intelligence secretary, William Boykin, many have depicted Muhammad as the obverse of everything the West and Christianity regards as good. In Summa contra Gentiles, Aquinas wrote that Muhammad ‘gave free rein to carnal desire’ and ‘those who believed in him from the outset were … beastlike men’. Striking is the parallel drawn by Luther: ‘The coarse and filthy Muhammad takes all women and therefore has no wife. The chaste pope does not take any wife and yet has all women.’ In TheChurch and the Political Problem of our Day (1939), Karl Barth, regarded as ‘the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas’ by Pope Pius XII, made a peculiar observation: ‘It is impossible to understand National Socialism unless we see it in fact as a new Islam, its myth as a new Allah, and Hitler as this new Allah’s prophet.’ To the American evangelicals, he is a ‘demon-possessed paedophile’ (all unreferenced quotes from Frederick Quinn’s The Sum of All Heresies, 2008). The latest example is The Truth about Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion (2007) by Robert Spencer.

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This is a book about the role of English speech in the creation and spread of British colonialism in Australia, about the eventual disintegration of this imperial speech and its values in the colony now transformed into a nation, and about the emergence of the ‘colonial voices’ of the title ...

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The prospect of discovering another work by a favourite author is always a pleasing one, even if the reality, when it is actually encountered, is sometimes disappointing. With a writer like Jane Austen, with only six published novels, who would not wish for some further delights to be unveiled? When Austen died, her sister, Cassandra, was left with the unpublished manuscripts of a number of juvenile writings and later works. After Cassandra’s death, members of her family had them in their hands (or perhaps one should say ‘on their hands’, given their subsequent feeling that the possession entailed a level of somewhat burdensome responsibility).

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The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Vol. 1: 1929–1940 edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck

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June 2009, no. 312

The play that made Samuel Beckett famous, Waiting for Godot (1953), must be the most unlikely box-office success in theatre history. Its upending of dramatic expectations – its bathetic preferencing of repetition over development, tedium over excitement – is an act of aesthetic brutalism as outrageous in its way as Marcel Duchamp’s ‘readymades’ four decades earlier. Yet its depiction of two grubby tramps waiting interminably for someone who never shows up has become a definitive representation of humankind’s state of metaphysical suspension. Life is a conceptual joke: we wait for an explanation that will never be given, beholden to someone or something that, if it is not nothing, might as well be nothing.

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In the late twentieth century, museums throughout the world faced a number of challenges. Confronted with a plethora of flashy new technologies, they struggled to overcome a perception of irrelevance and fustiness. Bureaucrats demanded that museums pay their way, entertain the masses, and meet the growing expectations for instant gratification and information without effort.

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