VIC contributor

In an early episode of the cult Canadian television series Slings & Arrows (2003), the director of the ‘Burbage Festival’ finds himself addressing a corporate audience, forced to teach management strategy through Shakespeare: ‘Do any of you seriously believe that you’re going to sell more plastics products to the construction industry by studying, say, the crisis management techniques of Claudius?’ Fortunately, Scott Newstok wouldn’t be answering that question in the affirmative. His How to Think Like Shakespeare doesn’t strain analogies or instrumentalise Shakespeare’s plays and characters to make Shakespeare seem relevant to patently unrelated contexts; rather, it explores both Shakespeare’s thinking and the ‘educational assumptions that shaped Shakespeare’ (since these frequently differ from our own system of education). At the heart of this book is Newstok’s conviction that ‘education must be about thinking – not training a set of specific skills’. After all, there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

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Gail Jones’s beautifully crafted narratives invite and reward careful reading. All her work bears the mark of her formidable intellect. Yet her texts don’t show off: they assert the primacy of embodied experience and interpersonal relationships as much as the inner life of the mind. They provoke you to attend to their many layers of meaning, often requiring at least two readings (and some research) to fully grasp their complexity. But the reader’s reward is in the ‘ah’ moments when, for example, an image takes on particular resonance or an idea emerges from the text’s depths. It is to these intricacies that Tanya Dalziell’s monograph, Gail Jones: Word, image, ethics, turns its attention.

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Nancy by Bruno Lloret, translated by Ellen Jones

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September 2020, no. 424

Near the beginning of Bruno Lloret’s stark, unvarnished first novel, Nancy, the cancer-riddled protagonist discovers that her husband has died in a workplace accident, sucked into the tuna processor while drunk. With no body to bury, she imagines having ‘a moment alone with the 2,500 tins containing [him]’.

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In a 1954 letter to his niece Pippa, artist-nomad Ian Fairweather lamented that he could not write with sufficient analytic detachment to look back at his life and ‘see a pattern in it’. (Ian Fairweather: A life in letters, Text Publishing, 2019). The irony – that one of Australian art’s most profound, intuitive pattern-makers should be ruefully unable to ‘see’ the formative structures and repetitions of his fraught life – would not be lost on Amanda Lohrey. Labyrinth, her haunting new novel, is a meditation on fundamental patterns in nature and in familial relations, and our experience of them in time. But this is a novel, not a treatise, its narrative so bracing – like salt spray stinging your face – that one is borne forward inexorably, as if caught in the coastal rip that is one of the novel’s darker motifs. It is a work to read slowly, and reread, so that its metaphorical patterns can come into focus, and the intricate knots of structure loosen and unwind.

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The cultural critic, poet, and musician Wayne Koestenbaum is pooped. He is ready for his writing to assume its ‘corpse pose’, to expire and become obsolete. Over the course of a thirty-year writing career marked by a lively enthusiasm for culture and celebrity, the author has often shown his attraction to acts of disappearance – his admiration, for example, of artists who retire relatively young (e.g. Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot, or poets Arthur Rimbaud and pre-comeback George Oppen). Perhaps more compelling to Koestenbaum, though, are those cultural figures who retire into careers; those who make work of indolence.

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On the July afternoon when I first read Intimations, novelist and prolific essayist Zadie Smith’s new book of essays, Melbourne registered its highest number of Covid-19 cases – 484 positives, with two deaths. Since then the daily tolls have risen alarmingly. Midway through the city’s second week of Lockdown 2.0, there is a nebulous feeling of dispiritedness. We mark time as belonging to a pre-Covid era or the present reality. Within the present there exist further subdivisions of pasts and presents marked by social distancing, mandatory mask-wearing, hopefulness.

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To an older generation of Australian poetry readers, David Campbell (1915–79) was perhaps the best-loved poet of Douglas Stewart’s post-World War II ‘Red Page’, appearing there with what would become iconic poems of the new Bulletin school like ‘Windy Gap’, ‘Who Points the Swallow’, and ‘Men in Green’. Despite his frequent publication in that heritage venue, Campbell published his first collection, Speak with the Sun (1949), in England with Chatto & Windus, through the good offices of his Cambridge mentor E.M.W. Tillyard. After that, he joined the ancien A&R régime of poets like Rosemary Dobson, R.D. FitzGerald, Francis Webb, James McAuley, and Judith Wright, who took up much of the middle ground of Australian poetry in the 1950s and 1960s. A lifelong friend and supporter of Campbell, Stewart was also influential in this group’s prominence, along with Beatrice Davis, his editorial co-adviser at Angus & Robertson.

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The Road by John Martinkus & Too Close to Ignore edited by Mark Moran and Jodie Curth-Bibb

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September 2020, no. 424

It is a damning – if not altogether surprising – indictment on our public discourse that the average Australian knows far more about political and social developments on the other side of the world than about those occurring in our ‘near abroad’. It takes just fifteen minutes to travel in a dinghy from the northern most island in the Torres Strait to Papua New Guinea. The flight from Darwin to Timor-Leste lasts barely an hour. If visitors were permitted in Indonesian-controlled West Papua, the trip from Australia to Merauke, by plane from Darwin or boat from the Torres Strait, would not take much longer. Yet judging by the sparse coverage these regions receive in our press and by their minimal prominence in our politics, they might as well be on Mars.

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In 2011, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed that ‘gay rights are human rights’. This statement, which would seem uncontroversial to most readers of ABR, was widely attacked as a symbol of Western neo-colonialism. Combined with the 2015 US Supreme Court recognition of same-sex marriage, gay rights were seen by many religious and political leaders as a threat to tradition, culture, and religion, even when, as in many parts of Africa and the Pacific, laws proscribing homosexual behaviour are the legacy of nineteenth-century colonialism.

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No Australian feminist is likely to forget the moment when Germaine Greer appeared on Q&A and declared that our first female prime minister should wear different jackets to hide her ‘big arse’. Greer, of course, has blotted her copybook many times before and since, but if we needed proof that a woman leader could not catch a break in this country, here was Australia’s most celebrated feminist joining in the new national pastime of hurling sexist invective at the prime minister.

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