Memoir

Twenty years ago, Robert Tickner tried his hand at the nuanced art of political memoir. Taking a Stand (2001) was, he said, ‘an insider’s account of momentous initiatives’ in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs portfolio in the 1990s. A portrait of the politician as a young man, son, father, and husband was not in the offing. Cabinet diarist Neal Blewett, a man not renowned for political flamboyance, described Tickner’s narrative as ‘remorselessly impersonal’. Privately, it seems, Tickner also protested that ‘the public me is not the real me!’

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It’s perhaps a dubious thought, but the life of an actor invariably triggers something prurient in the audience, some desperate need to peer past the mask, to see beyond the curtain. Books by and about actors indulge this prurience, whether or not they are intended to. Works like Konstantin Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares (1936) or Stella Adler’s The Art of Acting (2000) deal academically with the interiority and motivations of acting, but they still offer a glimpse into the process and the perceived trickery of creation. The most fun are the intentionally salacious ones, like David Niven’s The Moon’s a Balloon (1971) or Scotty Bowers’s Full Service (2017), which detailed the sexual proclivities of Hollywood’s closeted élite. Anything to get us closer, to get us into the inner sanctum.

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Rayne Allinson reviews 'Rogue Intensities' by Angela Rockel

Rayne Allinson
Monday, 24 February 2020

‘How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,’ writes Annie Dillard in The Writing Life, her timely appeal for presence over productivity in modern life. Turning the page on a new year reminds us of the seasonality of time, its familiar cycles of life, death, and rebirth. But flipping through the empty pages of a calendar can also remind us that time is a human construct designed to regulate our lives for maximum efficiency and output. In today’s attention economy, where time is treated as a currency by the technologies we use to satisfy our animal need for connection, how might we rediscover the joy of being present in a moment, a body, a community, a place? In other words, how are we to live?

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Writing trans and gender-diverse lives

Yves Rees
Monday, 24 February 2020

Six years after the ‘transgender tipping point’ proclaimed by Time magazine in 2014, the trans and gender-diverse (TGD) community continues to surge into the spotlight. From Netflix and Neighbours to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (which named ‘they’ its 2019 word of the year), transgender experience is enjoying well-deserved recognition and representation. Visibility, however, is not without its problems. Internationally, growing awareness has triggered an anti-trans backlash, with the TGD community becoming a conservative scapegoat du jour. The United States is experiencing a spate of anti-trans violence, while ‘bathroom bills’ proliferate in red states. In Australia, the 2016 moral panic over Safe Schools was followed in 2019 by The Australian’s anti-trans campaign (with sixty-eight articles, ninety-two per cent of them negative, published in six months), as well as the transphobic fearmongering of TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) over Victoria’s birth certificate reforms – not to mention Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s attacks on ‘gender whisperers’.

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The opening dedication in Carmen Maria Machado’s ground-breaking memoir In The Dream House reads: ‘If you need this book, it is for you.’ Here, Machado offers a gift but also a clue. She wrote this book because she needed to. For close to two years, she was in a lesbian relationship in which her partner was abusive to her. In making sense of it, Machado found a few books here and there, but mostly there was nothing – a meaningful silence. In deft strokes that should humble historians and other theorists of the archive, Machado contemplates the ghosts that haunt it. The ‘abused woman’ only became a ‘generally understood concept’ fifty or so years ago. Since then, other ‘ghosts’, including the female perpetrator and the queer abused, have become legible, while remaining shadows. She offers her own memoir – by design, ‘an act of resurrection’ – to the archive of domestic abuse, placing herself and others into ‘necessary context’.

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I was tempted to do a wicked thing when writing about Between the Fish and the Mud Cake: to take its subjects and describe my experiences with them. So I would tell you all about my lunch with Georges Perec at the French Embassy in Canberra. What he said, and I said, and the ambassador said, and what I made of it all. The book mentions touring with Carmel Bird; I could describe my friendship with her. But Andrew Riemer is not that sort of reviewer, and his book is much too interesting in itself to be one-upped like that.

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Sing This at My Funeral is not your conventional ghost story. Invoking Franz Kafka’s words, ‘Writing letters is actually an intercourse with ghosts, and by no means just the ghost of the addressee but also with one’s own ghost, which secretly evolves inside the letter one is writing or even in a whole series of letters’, this moving memoir by David Slucki gives shape to the ghost of Zaida Jakub, the grandfather he never knew.

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For two and a half decades, Samantha Power has been an advocate for US intervention to prevent genocide around the world – as a war correspondent, as an author, and as a member of the Obama administration (2009–17). The Education of an Idealist is a deeply personal memoir of that experience.

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The fortieth anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras might have been an occasion for unbridled elation. Held in March of 2018, the celebration came soon after the bitterly fought battle to legalise same-sex marriage in Australia. Dennis Altman, a pre-eminent figure in Gay Liberation, paints a different picture of the Mardi Gras. His new book, Unrequited Love: Diary of an accidental activist, conveys a sense of unease despite the frolicsome charms of such festivities.

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When Geraldine Brooks went through her father’s possessions after his death, she found the bundles of letters which prompted her to write Foreign Correspondence. Lawrie Brooks had been in the habit of writing to politicians and intellectuals with ideas and questions, and he had kept all their replies. Each letter, Brooks reflects, is ‘a small piece of the mosaic of his restless mind’. Because her father hoarded his past in photographs and newspaper clippings as well as letters, she had the makings of an intimate portrait of a reserved and unhappy man.

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