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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Fiction

Reflection: I Have More Souls Than One by Fernando Pessoa

One hundred years ago, during the early months of 2018, I was out for dinner with friends on Lygon St. They’re two of my favourite people, she a bioethicist, he a rare-books librarian, all three of us spec lit and SF nerds. After he and I finished off a bottle of red between us we wandered into Readings for dessert. It was on the new release shelves that we came across the teeny tiny Penguin Modern imprints. At $2.50 each we all found a few that might be useful. For me it was Orwell’s Notes on Nationalism, Stanislaw Lem’s The Three Electroknights and Fernando Pessoa’s I Have More Souls Than One. As expected, these writers have helped me to see the world, all fresh and shaken, but it was Pessoa who left me shook last night.

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Fiction

Reflection: Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner

When I’m anxious I go to bookstores. I worked in them for years, and for some reason, I still find it’s soothing to stroke spines and neaten piles of books. This is not the best news for my bank account, because I always find new friends I should bring home. My To Read pile grows higher every day and the days I have left I which to do this reading grow fewer.

 I picked up Heather, The Totality while I was having one of my mismanaged anxiety clouds. The cover was dynamic. It looked like a fast read and right now I am not above an easy win. I finally settled down to read it while soaking in a tub full of hot water and Epsom salts. It had been a long day, one of those days where my worries about my father’s health collided with my concerns about my own mortality and my choices that had lead to the fact that, in my late thirties, I can soak in the bath and read a book without being interrupted. The solitude of steam and salts is a mixed blessing. Every blessing is also a curse, I suppose.

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Fiction, Life Writing

Sounds of Silence: Audiobooks and the Reader

I’ve been listening to audiobooks. I’ve had friends and colleagues tell me that this is a thing that I should be doing for ages. This makes sense, I’m busy, I’m overcommitted, I commute and I do a lot of walking. Audiobooks should be a way of maximising productivity and pleasure in one hit. In some ways, they have been. I enjoy being read to, there’s something delightful and childish about it. I find it comforting.

I also find it hard to concentrate, and I often have to go back and repeat entire chapters. I realise that as I’ve been cleaning, walking, staring out of the train window, whatever, I’ve lost half a story. In one ear, out the other.

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Fiction

Reflection: Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval

I remember the first time I saw Janny Hval. She was performing at the Bella Union in Trades Hall and was supporting Laura Jean. She was on stage with a double bass, and a drum kit. There might have been other instruments, I don’t remember that. I do remember her voice: ethereal, and pure. Her voice was morning sunlight made song. She put me in mind of Milton’s Lapland witches, whose charms eclipsed the labouring moon. Ever since then, I’ve been chasing that first encounter. I found a version of it in her album Viscera, although less so in later albums and performances. I was hoping that her book, Paradise Rot, would again, trip up my experiences. It did.

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Fiction

Reflections on VOX by Christina Dalcher

I came across VOX while I was walking through the bookshop at one of the many campuses on which I teach. I had been talking with friends/colleagues/research collective about the aesthetics of paratexts (ie: pretty book covers) and we had recently been discussion the push towards the black/white/red tricolour in feminist dystopias. So this was perhaps one of the least subtle incarnations of that aesthetic I’ve seen recently. And, unsurprisingly, there is nothing about this book that is subtle. Continue reading “Reflections on VOX by Christina Dalcher”

Fiction

Reflections on Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

I’d been hearing a soft hum about Jesmyn Ward’s writing for a little while, but with everything that I have to read for teaching, reading for pleasure sometimes takes a back seat. I’m sorry that I waited so long to have this book in my life. Sing, Unburied, Sing is described as a twenty-first century archetypal road novel, however the point of departure and return, the home, is as important to this story as the journey. I initially read the story as an engagement with the literary fantastic, where hauntings are manifested through trauma, illness, and in some instances narcotic induced breaks from reality. However, it slowly becomes clear that these breaks from consensus reality are not specific to the characters, and the reader is also implicated in experiences that transcend the world in which we sit.

My reading of this book was definitely shaped by my love for Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Sing, Unburied, Sing revisits and explores not only the searing loss of potential and hope that is inscribed on the bodies of generations of African-Americans, but it explicitly juxtaposes it with the forgiveness and the lauding of potential that is offered to white men and women. The book is gentle, but unapologetic in holding white readers to account for their privileges, and with the echo of Black Lives Matter, and the current imprisonment and dehumanisation of non-American People of Colour by the current administration (and I know that Australia has been doing this for years, against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well as against refugees) it is a text that should be on university curricula everywhere.

The other feature of this story that puts me in mind of Beloved is its use of circularity; this is less revolution that spiralling. The stories told by pop to the young protagonist, JoJo always circle around their ending, but don’t quite arrive there, and even when enough of the story is pieced together for the reader to know what sorrows sit in Pop’s shadow, there is no resolution to those sorrows, no reconciliation, no moving on. They just continue to haunt and to hurt. it puts me in mind of a brilliant article written by Philip Page for the African American Review back in 1992. In both stories the only way in which the parental figure (in Beloved, Sethe, in Sing, Unburied, Sing, River) can ensure the safety of the children in their care is to remove them. In Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates writes “Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.” This anxiety, a rational anxiety that arises because of the violences that white supremacy —institutional, systemic and polite— wields against black bodies is at the heart of Ward’s book. But her writing is not hopeless, though it is mournful: JoJo and Kayla both provide a path forward: they understand where they are from, and they know and feel its hurt, and they demand more from the world around them, even as they know they will be denied it.

I’d like to write more about this book, but to do so in a more explicit way where I can be less obtuse and not worry about spoiling the story. At the same time, I know that that sort of writing has to be just for me, because, as a white girl, it’s important that I read this story, but my thoughts on it are not important. This story is not written for me, even as I learn from it.