Essays

In a review of several books on motherhood (LRB, 14 June 2014), Jacqueline Rose – feminist, writer on psychoanalysis, English professor, ‘public intellectual’ – interprets Adrienne Rich’s belief that to give birth is to testify to the possibilities of humanity, as a variation on Hannah Arendt’s formulation, in an essay on totalitarianism, that ‘freedom is identical with the capacity to begin’. As bearers of new lives, women are thus the repositories of tremendous power, which is undermined by the patriarchy. Arendt’s collection of essays Men in Dark Times (1968) provided the framework for Rose’s exhilarating, disturbing, ‘scandalous’ (Rose calls for a ‘scandalous feminism’ in the preface) book, Women in Dark Times.

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In appraising the poet Peter Porter, David Malouf writes that ‘the world we inhabit is a vast museum – call it History, or Art, or the History of Art. For Porter, the exhibits were still alive and active.’ So it is with Malouf himself: his world includes Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the awful and bloody twentieth century, a Brisbane childhood, and much more – including an abiding intellectual embrace of great writers and great writing.

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Poetry ‘cannot be an ark to help us survive the flood’, wrote Zbigniew Herbert in 1948: ‘It has to be our daily bread, an article of primary need.’ Nothing could be more truly said of Clive James’s approach to poetry. His latest assemblage of essays, reviews, and miscellanea, collected over the years that straddle his diagnosis of leukemia, feel necessary as oxygen. There is a quiet restlessness too: a sense of sorting papers into some final order.

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In 2013, publisher Sigrid Rausing significantly reduced Granta magazine’s staff, and long-time editor John Freeman resigned. At this news, various high-profile contributors, including Peter Carey, expressed their concern for the future of the magazine. But if we can judge solely on the quality of this edition, the new Rausing-edited Granta has lost none of its verve. It remains chock-full of fine writing and art.

With fate as its theme, much of the work in this edition speaks to love, loss, and mortality. Which is not to say that it makes for grim reading. The lead story, Louise Erdrich’s ‘Domain’, may be dark in subject matter, but it is also playful. A take on a no doubt popular science fiction theme, ‘Domain’ presents a future world in which the quality of your digitally uploaded afterlife is determined by which of the various corporate-owned simulations you can afford. It is literary in tone without sacrificing the pay-off of genre.

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It has been raining all week, persistent drizzle unlike the brief downpours that are more typical of Beirut. The city is slumbering. I am staying with my parents. My father goes out less often. My mother is snuggled under the blankets. She hopes the war won’t happen. The kettle is boiling like a purring cat. The house is quiet. Rain is the soporific of cities.

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When I was still a jot at uni, a medical student friend stumbled late out of her latest lecture and reassured me. And then she assured me, ‘It was horrible! We had slide after slide of some dead smoker’s lungs. And they were disgusting! I’m gonna be sick! Give me a cigarette!’ That’s when I first understood that ‘smoking’ was not ever going to be a straightforward subject.

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The ‘place in the city’ of Fr Edmund Campion’s latest pilgrimage into Australian Catholic life and history is St Mary’s cathedral, Sydney. Campion spent six years here as a young-priest working in the shadow of both the cathedral and the august Normal Cardinal Gilroy.

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