Fiction

Reflection: Crudo –A Novel by Olivia Laing

Some books come into your life at the right time. Like a new friend they hold your hand, pull you away to a quiet corner, snaffle a bottle and two glasses on the way across, and then pull you into a couch, proclaiming: Let’s talk. Laing’s book does just this. It offers the reader a startling “What if”: What if Kathy Acker were here, now? What if she was on Twitter? Or Instagram? What if she was still writing, confronting readers with their darkest selves? What if Kathy Acker ended up in some middle aged respectability? We’ve seen how that worked out for Trent Reznor, no?

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Life Writing

Reflection: Call Them By Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays) by Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit is, for me, an essayist who I can read with ease. I agree with most of her takes, I find her turn of phrase clear, but not patronising, and I enjoy the way she weaves her knowledge and experience as an historian into her observations about life in what has been fairly complex, turbulent, and angry times. I enjoy the essay as a genre of writing, but I can no longer drag together the energy to be righteously indignant every time I read something. I think this is why I love Solnit. She offers relief. She offers hope. I know she can be pop-feministy, but there are also times when I want to listen to pop music, or watch reality TV and I think these things can teach readers, in their own small, quiet, softly, softly ways.

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Fiction

Reflection: Netsuke by Rikki Ducornet

I spent a Sunday afternoon lying on the beach enjoying sun, a cool breeze coming off the water, and a book. I read the whole of Netsuke in one sitting. It has been a long time since I have given myself the time to dedicate to a book like that. Normally I read in snatches, before bed, or on public transport, or as a reward after finishing marking essays or transcribing interviews. None of this is my own research of course. I’m terrified of starting my own writing. It feels very far away, and I’m convinced of my own inadequacy as a writer (both scholarly and creative). I discussed this with my analyst this week. We’re unpacking my focus on productive and unproductive writing. I’m fond of binaries. It’s very Euro-centric of me.

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Fiction

Reflection: The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera (Translated by Lisa Dillman)

I really enjoy the retelling and reimagining of familiar stories. I like that by shirting perspective, considering the viewpoint of a minor, or a peripheral character opens a story to new tellings, prioritises different concerns and positions readers to reconsider the ways in which they presume it is normal for power to be exercised. Herrera’s retelling of Romeo and Juliet does just this. Resituated in a plague-ridden Mexico (a plague on both your houses), The Transmigration of Bodies follows The Redeemer, a fast-talking negotiator, who has to clean up the mess that arises from the deaths of two young lovers from warring families.

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Fiction

Reflection: Oronooko by Aphra Behn

One of my concerns of late has been the reclaiming of classical literatures from regressive frameworks. If that sounds euphemistic it’s because it is. My concern, more simply put, is that regressive ideologies have claimed the classical literatures that came from Europe as their own, and this is at the expense of progressive ideologies. I’m not saying that these texts are the only texts of merit, nor am I saying that they should be studied at the expense of texts that have been marginalised under, let’s admit it, settler-colonialist pedagogies that are premised on European-supremacy. Nonetheless, given settler-colonialism is one of the after effects of European invasion and colonisation, I do think it is important to understand the texts that gave shape to that mindset, if only so that the systems built on those readings can be dismantled from within. Colonised peoples know that the systems are fucked, finding ways of teaching colonisers (and I count myself among that number) about the ways in which their world views are not universal, nor even coherent, and are certainly not materially applicable in a universal sense (ie. they’re not just “the way things are”). To this extent Aphra Behn’s novel, Oronooko provides a valuable insight into the early spread of colonialism and the ideologies that underpin it.

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