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, 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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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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Theatre/Plays

Reflection: Everyman adapted by Carol Ann Duffy

A few years ago I worked with a student of mine on a musical adaptation of Everyman. This story has been important to English drama, theatre and storytelling since the late Middle Ages. It asks viewers to consider their own mortality, and to determine whether they have lead a good life, and by what standards do they measure that goodness. Although Duffy’s adaptation dates from 2015, and my student’s adaptation from early 2016, it strikes me that this story is ready for another, less compromising, revisit. Continue reading “Reflection: Everyman adapted by Carol Ann Duffy”

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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Fiction

Review: The End of Days – Jenny Erpenbeck

From where she sat today, she cast a critical glance at the peace-loving girl she had once been. She had understood even then that there was a difference between the blood that flowed during a revolution and the blood that was spilled in a war. She also knew that all wars are not created equal. (122)

The End of Days is a thoughtful and evocative read that traces the many and potential lives of one woman over the course of the twentieth century. It is a book that asks readers to think about the ways in which their relationships with other people—family, friends, strangers—can shape their lives.  Continue reading “Review: The End of Days – Jenny Erpenbeck”