Essays and Commentary

Clive James once said that the problem with being famous is that you begin by being loved for what you do and end up thinking that you are loved for who you are. Quite possibly, it is to avoid such a fate that James has returned in the past few years to the thing that got him noticed in the first place – writing dazzling prose. Absenting himself from the Crystal Bucket, he has become once more a full-time writer, popping up in the Times Literary Supplement and Australian Book Review with gratifying regularity. The title of his latest collection of essays refers to its first and final pieces, both of which deal with the crucial difference between celebrity and recognition, a subject currently dear to his heart, partly for the reason outlined above, partly because the current media is saturated with noisy nonentities. Since James is no doubt frequently recognised by people ignorant of the very achievement for which he really deserves recognition, his thoughts on the subject are clearly invaluable.

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La Trobe University Essay: 'On September 11' by Morag Fraser

Morag Fraser
Monday, 23 September 2019

Primo Levi, in two interviews given almost twenty years ago*, set a standard of critical sympathy that is not only exemplary, but peculiarly apt to the fraught debate about the post-September 11 world and the USA’s place and reputation within it.

'After the Academy' by Kerryn Goldsworthy

Kerryn Goldsworthy
Monday, 23 September 2019

At seven o’clock on the morning of 2 February 1999, I was due at the Memorial Hospital in North Adelaide to relieve my older sister at my mother’s bedside, where she had been all night. The alarm was set for six. At five-thirty, I was woken by the phone; my mother had died, as we had known for a couple of days that she would, from complications following a cerebral haemorrhage.

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'The tyranny of the literal' by James Ley

James Ley
Monday, 23 September 2019

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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Maryanne Wolf’s excellent book about the reading brain, Proust and the Squid: The story and the science of the reading brain (2007), quotes Marcel himself ...

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It can be revelatory to read the original words of a famous writer and thus meet them on the page. Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) has been so much quoted and written about that it might be rare even for his admirers to be exposed to his original prose at length and in context. It is a rewarding experience, especially when the writer cared so much for the ‘melody’ of his sentences ...

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In retrospect, the Morrison government’s win in May 2019 is not surprising. After the shift to the right in a number of liberal democracies since the election of Donald Trump, why did we assume that Australia would be immune? The assumption that Labor was certain to win resembled the attitude of most commentators towards Hillary Clinton ...

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Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews three books on Charmaine Clift

Kerryn Goldsworthy
Wednesday, 14 August 2019

‘AT NIGHT,’ wrote Charmian Clift one summer in the late 1950s on the Greek island of Hydra where she lived with her husband and children, where the harbour village had been invaded by summer tourists, where teams of local Greek matrons invaded the kitchen in relays to monitor the foreign woman’s housework and mothering techniques ...

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Writers describing the contemporary moment abound. Many do it well, but few do it as shrewdly as Jia Tolentino. With Trick Mirror: Reflections on self-delusion, Tolentino has produced a début collection of essays so insightful ...

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The late historian Patrick Wolfe did not pull any punches when he wrote that colonialism seeks to eliminate and replace the Indigenous cultures holding sovereignty over the lands and resources that colonisers wish to claim ...

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