VIC contributor

In his monograph The Great Derangement (2016), Indian writer Amitav Ghosh pointedly asks why society, and more specifically literature, has almost entirely ignored climate change: ‘ours was a time when most forms of … literature were drawn into the modes of concealment that prevented people from recognising the realities of their plight’. This was, Ghosh concludes, because ‘serious prose fiction’ had become overwhelmingly committed to versions of literary realism that rely on notions of quotidian probability. The irony of the realist novel, then, is that ‘the very gestures with which it conjures up reality are actually a concealment of the real’.

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With his founding of the Bauhaus in 1919, the German architect Walter Gropius proposed a radical reimagining of the arts and crafts. His manifesto outlined the principles for an institution that would unify architecture, art, and design, creating ‘a new guild of craftsmen, free of the divisive class pretensions that endeavoured to raise a prideful barrier between craftsmen and artists!’ At the heart of this stirring vision was a world in which creativity was directed to practical ends, where function was a fundamental element of creative endeavour. Gropius’s call was both inspiring and timely, and it found ready devotees. In a continent savaged by four years of war, there was urgent need for a new way. Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and Oskar Schlemmer were a few of the many who made their way to the German city of Weimar to work with Gropius and to help realise his vision.

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The French have a term for weighty tomes of scholarship: gros pavés or paving stones. Alexander Mikaberidze has landed his own gros pavé, an extraordinary account of the Napoleonic Wars of 1799–1815 in almost one thousand pages, based on an awe-inspiring knowledge of military and political history and a facility in at least half a dozen languages. The scale of his knowledge is breathtaking.

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To kidnap one pope might be regarded as unfortunate; to kidnap two looks like a pattern of abusive behaviour. Ambrogio A. Caiani tells the story of Napoleon’s second papal hostage-taking: an audacious 1809 plot to whisk Pius VII (1742–1823) from Rome in the dead of night and to break his stubborn resolve through physical isolation and intrusive surveillance.

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‘Experimental writing’ can sometimes seem like a wastebasket diagnosis for any text that defies categorisation. Even when used precisely, it begs certain questions. Isn’t all creative writing ‘experimental’ to some degree? Isn’t the trick to conceal the experimentation? And what relationship does it bear to the ‘avant-garde’? If avant-gardism implies a radical philosophy of art, where does ‘experimentalism’ fit today? Is it not part of the valorisation of novelty, of innovation for innovation’s sake, which has gripped the literary establishment in recent decades? (When books like Milkman [2018] and Ducks, Newburyport [2019] fall victim to the cosiest of literary prizes, where have the real radicals gone?)

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In 1985, following the publication of their collaborative works Gularabulu: Stories from the West Kimberley and Reading the Country: Introduction to nomadology (with artist Krim Benterrak as co-author), Paddy Roe, possibly sensing that the young researcher would be of critical importance to his life’s project, suggested to Stephen Muecke that there needed to be a third book, The Children’s Country, about the rayi – the spirit children – and for human children to come. Muecke writes that he was unable to deliver the book at the time. Roe went on to establish the Lurujarri Heritage Trail following a songline along a ninety-kilometre stretch of coastline from Minyirr (Broome) to Minarriny (Coulomb Point).

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Toby Davidson’s first collection, Beast Language, was published nine years ago. That feels surprising: its freshness then makes it feel more recent now. Much of the movement in that book is present in his new collection, Four Oceans (Puncher & Wattmann, $25 pb, 93 pp), literally so, as we begin with a long sequence aboard the Indian Pacific from Perth to Sydney. It’s his younger self again, leaving home for the ‘eastern states’, but with an esprit de l’escalier twist, as that younger self gets to see and describe everything with the eye and language of the older, freer, more assured Davidson.

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Prose Poetry: An introduction by Paul Hetherington and Cassandra Atherton

by
May 2021, no. 431

It speaks volumes that almost a century and a half after Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen announced the modern prose poem, James Longenbach influentially defined poetry as ‘the sound of language organized in lines’. An otherness, bordering on illegitimacy, pervades what Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington argue is ‘the most important new poetic form to emerge in English-language poetry since the advent of free verse’. The book vindicates this claim. No less compelling, however, is the way the prose poem, long defined in negative terms, here becomes the whetstone over which old assumptions – about the prosaic, the poetic, and the daylight between the two – are run to a fresh sharpness.

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Pip Adam’s third novel, Nothing to See, is a multifaceted and complex work. The complications begin immediately, as we meet the protagonist, Peggy and Greta, who are a recovering alcoholic. The odd combination of the singular and plural here is intentional. As far as appearances go, Peggy and Greta are different individuals with separate bodies and separate minds. Nonetheless, they share one life in an arrangement made difficult by the discomfort and lack of understanding they face at every step. They became two at the lowest moment in their history, when the crushing weight of trauma and alcohol addiction became too much for a single person to bear. One individual whose choices were limited to recovery or death thus became two.

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Go to any suburban shopping centre and you will find a metropolis of consumption. ‘Buy, buy, buy’, it screeches, whether you are contemplating fast-fashion T-shirts, new-age solutions to age-old problems, or services and pampering you don’t really need, all in the harsh glare of white lights and a controlled climate, temperature just right. The shopping centre, uniform and tidy, is where you can get everything you’ve ever wanted while also getting nothing at all.

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