James Ley

Silence by Rodney Hall

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November 2011, no. 336

Isaiah Berlin famously divided people into two categories: hedgehogs and foxes. The former know one big thing with absolute certainty; the latter know many small things. When it comes to writers of fiction, a parallel distinction might be made on stylistic grounds. There are some writers who cultivate a finely attuned personal style – a style that becomes unmistak ...

Literary biography is an often derided genre. Writers, in particular, tend to be suspicious, if not openly hostile, toward what they are apt to regard as a secondary or parasitic form. And there are valid reasons for this wariness. The assumption behind a biography is, reasonably enough, that the writer’s life informs the work, but establishing the precise relevance of the life to the work is a treacherous business. Because it is possible to argue that anything a creative writer experiences is at least potentially significant, there is no obvious line between a legitimate and a trivial, or even a prurient, interest in the details of a writer’s personal life. 

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HEAT 24 edited by Ivor Indyk

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March 2011, no. 329

A declaration of interest is in order. I have twice appeared in the pages of HEAT. I am also in the latter stages of a doctorate, which I have been writing for the past few years under the supervision of HEAT’s editor, Ivor Indyk. Under normal circumstances, I would decline to review a new edition of the journal for these reasons. The latest edit ...

In 1996, with two well-received but not widely read novels to his credit, Jonathan Franzen published a long essay in Harper’s magazine in which he aired his concerns about the novel’s waning cultural authority...

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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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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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The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

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November 2008, no. 306

In early 2018, Christos Tsiolkas published a long essay as part of a series commissioned by the Sydney branch of PEN, an organisation dedicated to freedom of expression. ‘Tolerance’, which appeared in Tolerance, Prejudice and Fear (2008), is an interesting document, not least for the way it highlights how compelling yet exasperating a writer Tsiolkas can be.

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Breath by Tim Winton

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May 2008, no. 301

One of the intriguing things about Breath, Tim Winton’s first novel in seven years, is that it has a number of affinities with his very first book, An Open Swimmer (1982). Both are coming-of-age novels that attempt to capture some of the confusion and melancholy of youth ...

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Those who would have us believe that William Shakespeare was not the author of the poems and plays that bear his name – J. Thomas Looney and Sherwood Silliman come to mind – like to encourage the idea that almost nothing is known about his life. In fact, we have quite a lot of information about Shakespeare’s life, career and the cultural environment in which he wrote. What we do lack is any direct testimony from the man himself. His opinions are lost to us. There are no letters or journals that might illuminate his private thoughts and feelings. The basic facts of Shakespeare’s life (1564–1616) are largely set out in official documents recording births, deaths, marriages and legal transactions. If we must inquire into the nature of his personal relationships, the options are either to try and extrapolate his views from his poetry and dramatic works (an impossibly compromised practice), or else turn to circumstantial evidence and weigh up possibilities.

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Real what?

Dear Editor,

I have followed with interest the dispute between John Carmody and James Ley that proceeded the latter’s exceptionally sensible and even-handed review (March 2007) in which Mr Ley criticised those who maintain the divide between high and popular culture.

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