Tag Archives: Antony Loewenstein

SWF 2020, Post 9

From a septuagenarian’s memoir to queer teenage romance, the war on drugs and soundscape ecology, here are the next five sessions from the 2020 Sydney Writers’ Festival that Covid sent into virtuality.Once again, I haven’t read any of the books discussed.

Vicki Laveau-Harvie: The Erratics 31 August

Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s The Erratics won the Stella Prize last year. It’s edging onto my TBR shelf, and I’ve heard and read quite a lot about it, so I almost didn’t listen to this podcast: hearing too much about a book before you read it can completely undermine the experience of reading it for oneself.

But once I’d started listening I was hooked. Ange Lavoipierre (so many excellent interviewers at this Festival that I’ve never heard of) elicited wonderful reflections, on the difference between memoir and autobiography, the astonishing way something that’s peculiarly personal can resonate with many people’s experience, the way writing a memory down is like taking a snapshot which replaces the fluid thing that was there before, and much more.

The conversation made me want to read the book rather than making me feel, as this kind of conversation sometimes does, that I don’t need to.


Antony Loewenstein: Pills, Powder, and Smoke 9 September

Antony Loewenstein is back, this time talking about his own book about the war on drugs, Pills, Powder, and Smoke, with George Dertadian. Dertadian introduces himself as an academic who researches aspects of illegal / recreational drug use, who only put Loewenstein’s book down because he had to. So it’s a high-level journalist talking to a scholar, a good combo.

The war on drugs is like the war on terror: neither can ever be won, and both – if I remember correctly – generally make worse the thing they seek to remedy. The war on drugs can become a war on drug users, as experience in the Philippines under Duterte shows. Shockingly but not surprisingly, Loewenstein says, Duterte’s program of extrajudicial killings is generally popular. But the Philippines is an extreme example of what is happening elsewhere:

American administrations have not killed millions of Black people to fight a drug war, not within the US at least. What they’ve done is, they’ve got the world’s largest prison population, which I might add was mostly expanded under Democratic administrations, not Republicans, and Joe Biden, potentially the next US president was the key architect of the War on Drugs rhetoric.

There’s a fascinating discussion of ethical drug use, challenging the mindset, ‘My enjoyment is not connected to other people’s suffering,’ with information about the cost of the drug trade for lower level people in the supply chain in the drugs’ countries of origin. And equally fascinating, though brief, discussion of the safe injecting rooms in Sydney and Melbourne.

My favourite quote: ‘With some notable exceptions politicians on this subject are gutless pricks. I think that’s the correct academic term.’


Text on the Beach 10 September

Ronnie Scott and Madeleine Watts, authors of the coming-of-age novels The Adversary (set in Melbourne) and The Inland Sea (set in Sydney) respectively, talk with Rebecca Harkins-Cross, Melbourne-based critic and writer.

They each read from their books, always a good thing in these conversations, and both books sound interesting. The conversation mostly avoids the trap of detailed discussion of the books and instead ranges over the questions of research and the relationship of these books to others. Patrick White, Christina Stead, Sumner Locke Elliott and explorer John Oxley are all mentioned. I learned a little about ‘post-AIDS-crisis’ culture among Gay men, and enjoyed hearing a Sydney-Melbourne conversation that didn’t indulge any of the inane rivalry tropes.


Josephine Rowe: Here Until August 14 September

Josephine Rowe, described on the SWF website as one of Australia’s short-fiction greats, discusses her recent collection, Here Until August, with novelist Stephanie Bishop. Listening to this podcast was like eavesdropping on two smart, likeable strangers taking in spoilerish detail about a book I hadn’t read, a pleasant but pointless activity, until …

…. speaking of the importance of place in her fiction, JR went off piste for a moment to speak about the fascinating work of Bernie Krause, a soundscape ecologist who has been recording the sounds made by particular locations over five decades:

[He has] built up this incredible archive of 1300 biomes, their sonic signatures, and how they change over time … He talks a lot about the ways in which animals communicate and the bandwidths that they use. There’s the geophony, which is the sound of the natural, non-animal, non-sentient world. Then there’s the biophony, which is all non-human creatures, sound-making organisms. And there’s the anthrophony, which is us: our noise interacting or coming in and taking up certain registers means that creatures can’t communicate with each other in the same way and they’re being edged out. So you might be looking at the same patch of forest and it might look completely the same, but when you listen to the sound signature of it you hear how much is missing.

… Of these 1300 environment that he has recorded over the past 50 years, two thirds of them are either unrecognisable or in some cases completely silent, and that’s such a terrifying idea.

The conversation then turns to craft – how writing a novel differed from writing short stories (not necessarily harder!), how building with bricks differs from building with stone … And the session finishes with a reading from one of the stories in Here Until August, which made me want to go out and by the book.


Queerly Beloved 17 September

The non-digital SWF was to have an All Day YA event. This panel was to be part of it, featuring YA writers Erin Gough (Amelia Westlake), Sophie Gonzales (Only Mostly Devastated) and Anna Whateley (Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal), all of whom have written queer romance.

Again, I felt I was eavesdropping on smart, likeable people talking about books I haven’t read, and in this case am unlikely too, because my niblings are either out of the YA age group or aren’t much interested in romance, queer or otherwise, and by the time my grandies have reached YA reader age the field will have moved on.

There wasn’t really any YA as such when I was of that age. I searched out the little book where I listed all the books I read 1961 to 1975. Not including the books set for school, the list for 1961, the year I turned 14, which I understand to be peak YA, comprises:

  • 20 books by Agatha Christie
  • 5 by Edgar Wallace
  • 4 by Erle Stanley Gardner
  • 4 racist yarns by Sax Rohmer
  • 2 by Ngaio Marsh
  • a guilty 2 by Carter Brown
  • only 1 by Georgette Heyer, alas
  • 1 by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • 2 detective stories by people I’ve never heard of otherwise
  • 3 historical novels – Ben Hur, The Robe and I Will Repay by Baroness Orczy
  • 1 science fiction: H G Wells, The Invisible Man
  • Cheaper by the Dozen by the Gilbreths
  • Patrick Dennis, Around he World with Aunty Mame
  • Willie Fennel, Dexter’s Court, which I noted was funny by don’t remember
  • Much Ado About Nothing (I don’t know why)

I guess if there’d been YA queer romance, or any YA books at all, I would have been spared that immersion in churned-out detective fiction.

SWF 2020, Post 8

Usually the Sydney Writers’ Festival lasts for two weeks. Usually I blog about the dozen or so sessions I attend live, and don’t feel the need to tell you about any podcasts. This year I seem to have made a decision to listen to them all and blog about every one. Here are sessions 35 to 40: journalism, memoir, First Nations voices, the world of high tech, terrorism, violence against women.

Long-form Journalism in Australia 12 August

I know Trent Dalton’s writing from his novel Boy Swallows Universe, which I loved (blog post at this link). It turns out he has also been writing ‘long form journalism’ for The Australian for years. For even more years, Jane Cadzow has been doing likewise for Good Weekend, the magazine published on Saturdays with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Katrina Strickland is editor of Good Weekend.

This is an inside look at feature-article writing in Australia. There are lots of anecdotes about the biz, insights into the process (taping allows a journalist to take notes about things other than what is being said), and how ‘long form’ is seen by the ‘hard news’ journalists. As audience, I felt that I was listening in on a chat among people who knew each other well and moved in the same journalistic circles, rather than people who were discovering things along with us. The emphasis seemed to be on profiles of celebrities and others rather than stories from war zones or issues-based articles. But it’s a fun listen.


Jeff Sparrow: Fascists Among Us 17 August

My last batch of SWF sessions featured two white liberal male authors in conversation. This session features two white left-wing males. Jeff Sparrow, former editor of Overland, has written Fascists Among Us: Online Hate and the Christchurch Massacre. Here he talks to Antony Loewenstein, whose My Israel Question is terrific – and he’s written a lot since.

Starting with the Christchurch massacre, the conversation range widely over contemporary politics and media. The perpetrator (Sparrow doesn’t use his name and the discussion of his reasons is interesting) was not a ‘mentally-disturbed individual’ but a convinced Fascist, whose main inspiration was Oswald Mosley. Donald Trump is not a Fascist, but has created a sea in which Fascists can swim. Social media platforms have some responsibility for enabling Fascists to flourish. Here’s Jeff Sparrow:

Genuine Fascists were some of the early adopters of the internet, precisely because they realised the internet allowed them to mobilise and organise in a way that they couldn’t do in real life. The far right in Australia tended to be recruiting people from the outsides of big cities or small countries towns. How do you organise those people in the real world? It’s very difficult. Australis is a big country. How do you bring them all together? If you have a website, it’s much easier, and the most recent attempts to organise Fascist movements in Australia were for that very reason closely associated with platforms like Facebook, because here is a mainstream form of the internet, everyone uses it, everyone in a country town can get on Facebook, there’s this one group you can set up. It’s very well suited to the structure of Fascist organisations because it’s participatory but not democratic. You can set up a Facebook, everyone can be involved but there’s a leader at the top who runs everything. In a sense it replicates the structure of a traditional Fascist organisations. That’s one of the reasons the far right has done much better on line than the left has.

And later:

We need to try to find some way to take the anti-Fascist principles that have worked in the real world into the online space. That’s easier said than done, and I don’t have a particular answer as to how that might occur, but it’s going to be a real issue from here on in, because the internet is gong to be central to whatever far right groupings emerge.

In normal times, Sparrow says towards the end of the conversation, the perpetrator’s eco-Fascist notion of mass murder as a solution to the climate emergency would be absolutely unattractive to absolutely anyone. In the context where the world seems to be breaking down, that may be changing. He concludes on what Loewenstein calls the ‘mildly optimistic note’ that it’s not enough to fight back against Fascism: we have to offer some genuine hope for a better world.


First on the Ground 19 August

As in the session on long-form journalism, here three journalists who work in similar fields compare notes and discover how much they have in common. But this trio are Indigenous, and until recently it was rare for Indigenous journalists to be have major platforms. The participants are Warlpiri woman and co-host of NITV’s The Point Rachael Hocking; Anishinaabe and Polish Canadian journalist Tanya Talaga; and Kamilaroi/Dunghutti founder of the Tiddas4Tiddas podcast Marlee Silva.

Like the earlier session featuring Tanya Talaga, this one discusses strikingly similar experiences of First Nations peoples in Australia and Canada.

This is another podcast in the Stories Worth Telling series created by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas and Sydney Writers’ Festival.


Anna Wiener: Uncanny Valley 24 August

Uncanny Valley is US journalist Anna Wiener’s first book, a memoir of her time working in the high-tech industry. Here she talks about it with Rae Johnston, NITV’s Science and Technology Editor. The conversation covers many familiar topics: the rise of surveillance, the exploitation of workers in the tech industry and by companies like Uber, the steady thrum of sexism in Silicon Valley.

There’s an interesting discussion of Wiener’s decision to name no companies and very few people in the book – for instance, there’s a company she calls ‘the social media platform that everyone hates’ and there’s no prize for guessing what that is. Another highlight was the explanation of ‘Down for the Cause’, unofficial motto of a start-up that calls on employees’ devotion above and beyond their official duty, and well beyond what they are paid for. But though both speakers mention several times that the book is very personal, the conversation generally stays at an abstract, journalistic level. Here’s Anna Wiener:

I just wanted to write about the way that it feels to look for meaning in work, to think you’ve found it and then to be totally disillusioned not just by your personal experiences but by the narrative and fantasies of an entire industry … I didn’t write the book as an instrument of social change. That was never my intention. I really wrote it hoping that people might see themselves in it in some way, people might see the world a little differently. I wanted to articulate the experience of being a fairly low level employee at tech companies in the 2010s in part because I just felt that was not a perspective that I was reading much about.

I would have liked to hear her read from the book, to hear something specific about those personal experiences and those fantasies. But the conversation was a good reminder that those unnamed/nicknamed companies aren’t necessarily our friends.

A small note about entertaining differences in pronunciation: Anna Wiener spoke of the importance of higher keys and buyer says, and it took me a moment in each case to realise she meant organisations with rising levels of power and prejudices.


Reckoning and Retribution 26 August

Lucia Osborne-Crowley’s I Choose Elena and Ellena Savage’s Blueberries are both the debut books, the former a memoir and the latter a collection of essays. They both deal with personal experience of sexual assault, and its long, hideous tail.

Maeve Marsden, theatre person and curator of the ‘national storytelling project’ Queerstories, does a lovely job of facilitating the conversation – I particularly appreciated her for having both writers read from their books at the beginning, so we got to hear their deeply considered and carefully deployed words before hearing the back and forth of conversation. In that conversation one of the writers mentioned her PhD a couple of times and spoke in academically-inflected language a little too much for easy communication, but that’s a minor grumble from a relatively uneducated listener-in, who nonetheless benefited from the conversation.


The next batch of podcasts promises to include some story-telling. And maybe there’ll be some poetry …

Overland 222

Jacinda Woodhead (editor), Overland 222 (Spring 2015)

overland222.jpgLike most issues of Overland this one includes:

the results of at least one literary competition: Peter Minter asks in his judge’s report on the 2015 Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize, ‘Isn’t nurturing the penniless avant-garde something we should all embrace?’ As well as the poetry prize, this issue announces the Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize.

the regular columnists: I always enjoy Alison Croggon, who here takes issue with the idea of art as therapy, and Giovanni Tiso, who airs his ambivalence about his preference for old books. Natalie Harkin, a Narungga woman, poet and academic, makes her debut, reflecting on the importance of sharing personal narratives.

at least one intelligently provocative article: Stephanie Convery in Get your hands off my sister sounds a forceful warning against ‘activism centred on an unshakeable faith in women’s accusations of sexual assault’. The whole essay is worth reading, but I was struck by her point that harsher penalties for sexual assault don’t prevent it, but move it to a different location, ie, especially in the USA, to prisons.

• an excerpt from a work in progress: This is usually my least favourite thing in a magazine, especially when not clearly labelled, because the reader tends to be left hanging. Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The current inhabitants of the island is an exception. It’s a sharp stand-alone story of encountering racism in her childhood that make me look forward to her memoir, The Hate Race, later this year.

high level journalism: Antony Loewenstein’s After independence throws light on the state of South Sudan four years after gaining its independence. Loewenstein had been living in Juba, the capital, for most of the year before the anniversary, and what he reports isn’t pretty.

• a literature report: Ben Brooker’s article on vegetarianism and the left cites sources from Marx to Anna Krien, including books with titles like Brutal: Manhood and the Exploitation of Animals and The Sexual Politics of Meat, on the links between vegetarianism and progressive social movements (Marx wasn’t convinced). I met the term ‘carnism’ here for the first time, and learned that vegetarian scholarship is a thing. Incidentally, he mentions Hitler, but not that Hitler was vegetarian.

cultural studies. Dean Brandum and Andrew Nette give a workmanlike account of the Crawfords dramas HomicideDivision 4 and Matlock Police, with emphasis on their function as at times ‘a kind of entertainment auxiliary in the fight against crime’. It’s oddly comforting to see the TV shows one deliberately didn’t watch in one’s 20s become the stuff of cultural history.

debate: Well, not exactly a debate this issue, but Four perspectives on race & racism in Australian poetry by AJ Carruthers, Lia Incognita, Samuel Wagan Watson and Elena Gomez presents four strikingly different takes on their given subject and they do strike some sparks off each other. Racism and neo-orientalism run deep in Australian culture in general and Australian poetry in particular, but it depends where you look. Spoken word, conceptual poetry, radically experimental writing are thriving sites for non-white poets. The ‘narrowly expressive “I-poem”‘ may or may not be part of the problem. Sam Wagan Watson has the best single sentence: ‘There is no clinical evidence to suggest that racism is a by-product of mental illness, although I’ve heard many try to argue the fact.’

fiction: five short stories in this issue, including the Neilma Sidney Prize winner. It’s a grim lot, featuring anti-Muslim nastiness in the suburbs (the prize-winner, by Lauren Foley), a refugee school teacher who (not really a spoiler) kills himself (Ashleigh Synnott), a young, possibly Aboriginal woman entering a situation of sexual exploitation (Jack Latimore), a dystopian future where birds and insects are mechanical (Elizabeth Tan), and a woman who remains painfully silent when her boyfriend jokes about violence against women (Jo Langdon). All good stories, but not a lot of laughs and no real twists in the tail.

poetry: Toby Fitch takes over from Peter Minter as poetry editor with this issue. They judged the poetry prize together, and the three place-getters are the full poetry content, making this in effect a hand-over issue. Apart from writing his own poetry, Toby runs the poetry nights at Sappho’s in Glebe and is poetry reviews editor on Southerly. I look forward to his Overland regime.

Always a good read, usually cover-to-cover.

A US soldier talks about Iraq

Thanks to Antony Loewenstein for this, from Winter Soldier testimony in 2008:

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akm3nYN8aG8]

Try not to read the comments, at least not the illiterate ones.