Brian Castro

Lucien Gracq, the hero of Brian Castro’s verse novel Blindness and Rage, wishes to be a writer, though he has written only love letters to women, which achieved tragicomic results, or none at all. When Gracq retires from his job as a town planner in Adelaide, it seems he will have the time and freedom to write the epic he has dreamed of, but he is diagnos ...

At the age of fourteen, Brendan Costa, not Brian Castro, visits a fortune teller. The Witch predicts a fortunate life, though one afflicted by a lack of awareness that may lead to loss of control and possible disaster. Castro is warning the reader to pay attention or lose the plot.


For there is always going on within us a process of formulation and interpretation whose subject matter is our own selves.

These words appear towards the end of Erich Auerbach’s study of representation in Western literature, Mimesis. First published in 1946, the book has become a classic of twentieth-century literary criticism, but is almost as famous for the circumstances under which it was composed as for its content. It was written between 1942 and 1945 in Istanbul, where Auerbach, a German Jew, was living in exile.

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The Australian literary scene has always been more depressing that it is lively, especially when critics and writers are quick to display their battle scars in public places where oftentimes the debate hardly rises above fawning or fighting. The walking wounded are encouraged to endure. This is about the only encouragement extant. I remember the Simpson episode, not O.J. but Bart, who arrived in Australia for a kick up the bum. Perhaps the emulation of Britain has reached such an unconscious proportion that no ground can be explored beyond the grid bounded by Grub Street and Fleet Street, where youngsters need to be caned for reasons more prurient than wise, and where small ponds become the breeding pools for goldfish pretending to be piranhas dishing up more of the same stew. Thus, British writing, apart from its internationalists, hath come to this sad pass. Or where, given the brashness of being itself a young nation unused to finesse, Australia’s grand ideals end up as populist opinion – a talkback republic of letters irrelevant to its real enemies.

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And the fourteen are: Brian Castro, Sara Dowse, Joan London, Gillian Mears, Kim Scott, Brenda Walker, Marele Day, Tom Flood, Gail Jones, Beverley Farmer, David Brooks, John A Scott, Simone Lazaroo, and Carmel Bird, in the order anthologised. In summary: no contribution is less than satisfying, many are gripping, most are distinguished. It’s just that I have a problem with ‘risks’ as the postulated organising principle, though editor Brenda Walker might indeed take comfort in this exchange from Carmel Bird’s contribution, which might serve as epigraph to this review.

Too bad; I’ll risk it. This is a weird sort of writing, I have been told. It isn’t fiction; it isn’t essay; it isn’t poetry. What is it?

Ken wonders about this too. What do you actually think you’re doing here, writing this stuff! he says.

It is a slow search with words for the point where consciousness and understanding intersect with unconsciousness and confusion ...

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Wolves and goats. The goats represent the ego. They control time, represent culture, continuity, the status quo. They live in the grandfather clock that is at once history and the records of the psychoanalyst. The wolves are the id, the unconscious, desire. They are also reason, and they triumph over time. The Wolf-Man led Freud to his understanding of the war of the id on the ego. Freud identified as neurotics those who, unable to live with the war, regress to the instinctive, the primitive, the animal.

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Birds of Passage by Brian Castro & Getting Away With It by Kevin Brophy

May 1984, no. 60

Brian Castro’s novel Birds of Passage is a dramatic exploration of the intriguing idea, found in Butler, Jung, and others, that an individual’s life may in some way be in touch with ancestral experience. It imagines the possibility of a previous life, its outlook on reality and rhythms of existence, flowing troublingly into the consciousness of the present. The book shared the valuable Australian Vogel Prize last year. It is of some interest, but is a distinctly uneven work. Romantic in concept in its adoption of the idea of racial memory and psychic disposition, it is sometimes sententious in tone in its reaching for poetic effect, and prone to mix its narrative modes disconcertingly. It is hard to see it as a major literary prize-winner, although some of the historical episodes in its dual narrative are nicely done and the basic idea in itself is an attractive one.

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