Sadly or otherwise, reading in the sauna turns out to be a prompt for excellent conversations, and I’m tending to walk rather than take public transport. So my standard time slots for reading journals have shrunk, and I’m as far behind as ever.
Alexandra Christie (editor), Heat Series 3 Nº 5 (Giramondo 2022)
Each issue of the current series of Heat gives us a slender collection of excellent writing from Australia and elsewhere, including work in translation and work from Australian writers of non-Anglo background.
The stand-out feature in this issue is Kate Middleton’s three ‘Television Poems’. As someone who watches an awful lot of TV, I enjoyed these a lot. They deal with Dickinson (‘the one they always / had to label spinster, recluse, or else just too intense‘); the revelations about sexual abuse on the sets of TV shows, especially Hey Dad! (‘in suburban Sydney / the sitcom architect turned sinister’); and The Crown, with passing references to The Cosby Show, SVU, Scooby Doo, among others. Plus there are endnotes that are both helpful and funny (‘It’s hard being Kate Middleton and being uninterested in the royals’).
Of the rest, I most enjoyed Jenny Erpenbeck’s ‘Things That Disappear’, translated from German by Kurt Beals of the USA; and Oliver Driscoll’s ‘Two Simple Stories About Friendship’.
I had a vague unease reading this journal, which came into focus with the final piece, ‘Still Life With Cheese’ by playwright, poet and essayist Noëlle Janascweska. (You can read it for yourself on the Giramondo website at this link.) It’s a nicely written essay that interweaves the author’s personal dealings with various cheeses; a smattering of facts about the history of cheese manufacture; quotes from Zola, Auden, and Wallis & Gromit; and reflections on 16th century Flemish still lifes. There’s a reproduction of Still Life with Cheese, Artichoke and Cherries by Clara Peeters, 1625, which is stunning even in black and white. But I found myself wondering why I was reading it. I’m not particularly interested in cheese, and the essay didn’t make me interested. It feels like something written because the writer is a writer looking for a subject, rather than arising from any inner necessity.
At that point, something crystallised in my mind. It feels as if the new series hasn’t yet found its feet, hasn’t yet established a coherent purpose for existing. I already have two more issues on my TBR shelf. I’m hopeful.
Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk (editors), Overland 247 (Winter 2022)
(Much of the content is online at overland.org.au, and I’ve included links)
By contrast, Overland is suffused with a sense of purpose.
The lead article, ‘That’s not us!’ Wake in Fright and the Australian nightmare by Gregory Marks, is an excellent account of Ted Kotcheff’s film and Ken Cook’s novel it was taken from. It’s odd, though, to argue that the film, directed by a Canadian and starring an Englishman, exemplifies Australia’s ‘cultural cringe’. One moment that stands out in my memory from when I saw the film in 1971 is the alarming first appearance, complete with huge cigarette-lighter flame, of Chips Rafferty’s character (who isn’t mentioned in the article), which is the opposite of any kind of cringe.
‘Serving up colonialism instead of care‘ by Caitlin Prince tackles the pressing issue of how her fellow settler Australians can face and change attitudes that keep colonialist oppression in place. It’s a long article. Here’s a taste of the main argument:
Telling white Australians to ‘get over it’ would be consistent with our colonial stiff-upper-lip inheritance and Australia’s general trend of having the emotional intelligence of a brick, but it would also grossly misunderstand the problem. … People need space to unpack problematic racial views, otherwise they remain repressed, packed in tight, impossible to understand and shift. …
It is radical. and uncomfortable, to imagine meeting racist views with care – uncomfortable for everyone, but impossibly unfair to ask of Aboriginal people, whose lives (and deaths) are impacted by racism. Doing so, however, is sensible if we consider how human beings learn to regulate emotion.
Among the other articles, I particularly responded to ‘An almanac of immeasurable things‘ by Lachlan Summers, which sheds light on the naming conventions of cyclones and other phenomena, and the way the names can mislead. An example:
After the Black Summer [of 2019–2020], calls have been made for a category beyond catastrophic. Far outside the nomenclature of disaster, and generating new conditions of terror, this was a catastrophe that threatened not to end. In fact, ‘Black Summer’ refers to eleven months of waiting for fires to stop reproducing themselves.
The substantial array of poetry includes ‘log‘, a welcome new poem from joanne burns, which begins with this striking image:
dream’s letterhead lies exhausted
in the recycling bin
Among the healthy selection of short fiction, there were some effectively weird, surreal/uncanny pieces. My favourite, however, was a realistic story about a young person living in a share house in a southern city feeling for their home in Far North Queensland as it’s lashed by a cyclone. It’s ‘Sweet Anticipation’ by Jasmin McGaughey, winner of the 2021 Nakata Brophy Prize for young Indigenous writers. Interestingly, only an incidental word or two indicate that the protagonist is First Nations. At least, it’s interesting to me as a Far North Queenslander who was living in Sydney when Cyclone Larry took the roof off my childhood home.
The next issue of Heat kicks off with an essay by Fiona wright. And a quick look at Overland 248 reveals the presence of an old friend from English Hons at Sydney Uni in the 1970s. Much to look forward to.
Ian McEwan satirised this kind of writing in his novel Amsterdam. (I’ve quoted the passage in my review, it’s one of my favourites. Just type the title in my search box and you’ll find it).
You wouldn’t expect to find something similar in a LitMag, but then, I met a lot of wannabee writers when doing a short story unit in Professional Writing and Editing, and they had read nothing, paid no attention to world affairs and had the kind of vocabulary that would have sent the teachers of my childhood to despair. I can well imagine them writing about cheese or nail polish, and if they had editors cut from the same trivia cloth, well, here we are…
But on the brighter side, the ever incisive Margaret Simons recently wrote about ChatGBT for Inside Story and she says (I’m paraphrasing) that since AI can churn out this kind of bland writing about meaningless things, writers who do the same will disappear from view. The jobs of real journalists, who write about Things of Significance, will be safe.
(I’m expecting my stats to drop, BTW, because the students who currently visit to plagiarise my ideas for an essay, won’t need to do it any more. ChatGBT can do it for them.)
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Haha! Thanks for the McEwan reference, Lisa. The cheese piece is of a much higher order than the fabulously inane titles McEwan’s characters brainstorm, but there’s something of the same necessity to fill the blank page/screen. And yes, I’ve wondered about how ChatGPT-replaceable I am. I expect that students looking for something to plagiarise already leave my blog disappointed, but maybe now they’ll stop coming altogether.
I wonder how Google (which brings us the students) will order the contributions of ChatGBT in its search results.
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