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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Poetry

Reflection: Broken Teeth by Tony Birch

There is a special circle in hell

For whomever it is that invented “sale” stickers

That refuse to peel off. 

Scraping away at the front cover of a book

Becomes an exercise in precision,

Trying not to rip or ruin an elegant design.

I am reduced to surgery:

A paring knife,

Tweezers,

Cotton wool,

Eucalyptus oil.

And I pad, scrape, pick, and lift

The fading scab of $9.95

From the delicate matte-finished skin beneath.

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Life Writing

Reflection: By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart

I’ve been reading a lot of florid fiction of late. There was Jenny Hval’s Paradise Rot last week, Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, and Beverley Farmer’s Alone. These books have allowed me to sit with some fairly deep and conflicting emotions that I’ve had to process over the last twelve months, feelings related to my position as a Dedicated Spinster, feelings related to the likelihood that I won’t be a mother (old, single, precarious employment/no mat leave) and the reality that even if I do, my father, who is very unwell, won’t ever meet any of my children (beyond the furbaby, Dr Felix). This is, like, a lot. And I often find that the clean, fresh, pared back language that is favoured in contemporary writing doesn’t do justice to the messiness of these deep, but reasonable, feelings. By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept  was a glorious means of understanding the fury, focus and frailty that arises when we see the future we had imagined thwarted.

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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”

Life Writing

Author Discussion: The Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee

It’s just before 8pm on a Monday night and I’m sat in The Clyde, waiting for my dinner and listening to a group of undergraduates (five men, one woman) discuss sex education. One of the students wears a navy hoodie with the word “Science” emblazoned across its back. I’m guessing they’re not humanities students. Mostly because one of them said “re-entry” and the rest of them giggled. I’ve just come from a talk at the nearby Church of All Nations, hosted by the Victorian Women’s Trust and Readings bookstores. The conversation was between noted local feminist columnist and slayer of trolls, Clementine Ford, and Bri Lee, the young author of a memoir entitled Eggshell Skull.

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Fiction, Life Writing

Reflection: The Book of Dirt by Bram Presser

On Friday I walked underneath a blazing sun with 60 thousand other people to stand in solidarity with Aboriginal people and Torres Straight Islanders. We gathered in Naarm on Wirundjuri and Boon Wurrung land, under the banners of Constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians, the abolition of national holidays that are invested in narratives of white supremacy, and calling for a treaty to be negotiated in relation to the stolen land on which we work, walk, live, and love. We mourned the violences enacted against a 60 thousand year old culture. As I’m writing this, I’m sat in a pub, surrounded by old men while Baker Boy plays over the speakers, and there is an absolute joy that I derive from hearing Danzel Baker singing in Yolngu Matha. The resilience of humans to keep culture alive through art, stories and music is, for me, central to what it is to assert subjectivity (self in relation to power) in the face of oppression and dehumanisation. It is a bitter irony that International Holocaust Remembrance Day falls on 27th January, the very day after the Australian national celebration of the events that resulted in Australia’s genocide against First Nations people. News papers can’t seem to decide between proclamations of “Never Forget, Never Again” and “Just Get Over It.” The dissonance is painful.

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Fiction

Reflection: We Who Are About To… by Joanna Russ

TW: mention of socially mandated reproduction/rape.

I was wandering thorugh The Book Grocer when I came across this volume. Having loved The Female Man, And Chaos Died, and How To Supress Women’s Writing, I was delighted to come across the novella, We Who Are About To…. I was fresh from the Ethics/Utopias/Dystopias conference (I think that event might shape a bit of my reading this year) and I’m always here for a bright, kitsch cover.

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