On Goulburn St, nestled between Chinatown and the Spanish quarter, the old Trades Hall building was once the nexus of the New South Wales labour movement. Now, it feels more like a museum: giant banners from the early twentieth century, hung in the central courtyard, extol the eight-hour day, the rights of women at work, and the unions of various trades: stonemasons, ‘liquor trades employees’, tile-layers and shop assistants. Many of the offices are now rented out to companies and organisations that feel incongruous: law firms, consultancies – and the Sydney Writers’ Room. The Room is a good place to write: high ceilings, spacious desks, and most importantly silence, except for the tapping of keyboards and scratching of pens on paper. I’ve been a member for about six months.
The Sydney Writers’ Room has now produced Chinese Whispers, an anthology of its members work. It’s a curious experiment: each piece is written by one of the Room’s members, about another of the Room’s members, chosen randomly from a hat. The resulting book is quite odd: diverse, certainly, both in style and in quality. Some of the pieces are rather slight, and at least one is in very poor taste. But there are also some delightful pieces in there: hilarious, affecting and occasionally eerie. I particularly enjoyed Stephen Lacey‘s whimsical short story ‘Limbos’.
My subject was the theatre director and librettist Sarah Carradine. I have neither the aptitude nor the inclination to write biographically, so I wrote ‘The Determinist’s Tale’, a choose-your-own adventure in the style of those 1980s second-person kids’ books. It relates to Sarah in a very nebulous way; I’m still not sure if it really works, but it was certainly fun writing it. A nostalgia trip, if nothing else.
Chinese Whispers is now available on Amazon in ebook form.
[ buy it ]
For a book that sets out to deflate ‘the expansionism and gargantuan scale of world-literary endeavors’, Against World Literature has some sizeable ambitions of its own. Even when Apter talks about literature, it is usually at one or two removes. Often, the real object of her attention is the theoretical exegesis of a work, rather than the work itself. It is a hectic journey through such a wilfully eclectic range of intellectual terrains that it is sometimes unclear how we came to be discussing the point in hand, and for what purpose. The density of the prose does not make it any easier to follow the thread. It is no small feat to write a gloss that is more opaque than the quotation from Jacques Derrida it is intended to explicate.
My review of Emily Apter’s Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability (Verso, 2013) is out on the Sydney Review of Books.
[ read it ]
By their nature, drones clear away the ‘fog of war’, and provide some moral clarity. That latter phrase, in the context of war, was given a bad name recently by the Bush administration; liberals pleaded for some appreciation of nuance and subtlety. But the Bush wars, and the whole regime of surveillance and torture that accompanied them, were framed by the constant invocation of the 2001 suicide hijackings, and explicitly grounded in relativistic utilitarianism: we have to bend the rules because of the situation we face. After the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, the standard excuses were trotted out. A few bad apples. War is hell. But war is not hell for a flying robot; and nor is it, pace the human-interest stories in the Western media, for drone operators…
[ read the full paper at academia.edu ]
So pleased that my thousand-word-sentence / flash fiction piece ‘Mr Morden’s Tree’ has been published in Oblong Magazine, a flash fiction journal based in Brixton:
…this was what he did, plant trees, though there was no point, really: trees grew of their own accord, as they had done before the first bald, bickering apes descended from their branches, and they would do so long after the extinction of this interloping species, a thought that gave him some satisfaction in those moments when he accidentally read the headlines, or someone tried to speak to him, as the man next door almost did at that moment, catching a glimpse of Mr Morden’s hat dipping as he pushed and twisted at the ground, desiccating it and slicing through fat earthworms with the point of his shovel, which brought a comment to the lips of the neighbour, something about his own rose-beds and the intransigence of the earth giving him blisters, stillborn words turned to a cough, because he remembered in time that Mr Morden was not one for a chat, surly old bastard…
To read the whole story, and many others (including another one of mine, a tiny hundred-one that’s been used as the volume’s preface), you will have to get hold of a copy of Oblong volume two. It’s only three quid!
Update 13.09.13: It’s now also online on the Oblong website.
Given a scenario in which the equipment is operated at or near maximum intensity, while simultaneously maintaining a low electromagnetic differential in the thermic regulation unit, pressure in the hydraulic valves will build up gradually in such a way that the safety override will not be activated. This pressure would cause an explosion that might rupture the fuel tanks. Rupturing the fuel tanks on even the smallest of our units could be extremely hazardous to customers. It would compromise our commitment to excellence in providing safe, effective and robust solutions to our valued customers. The potential adverse effects to the market reputation of the product line are extremely severe!
[ read the whole story in Litro ]
Wilms, wearing a cream-coloured three-piece suit, is billed in the program simply as Actor. There are moments when he seems to inhabit a character – perhaps a version of Canetti himself – but most of the time he is describing ideas, announcing them to us, confronting us with them.
The ideas are hypothetical, bizarre, utopian or dystopian, and frequently impossible, absurd or surreal: a society in which children are the executioners, to save the adults from getting blood on their hands. Often, they implicitly criticise societal values, or, by taking them to extremes, estrange the familiar – that is, allow us to see it from the outside. Each idea is self-contained, with a pause to allow it to take shape in our minds before the next one replaces it. The music does not fall away when the actor speaks; rather, music and speech compliment and counterpoint each other, the words buoyed up by, or cutting across, the dramatic flourishes and crescendos of the quartet.
[ read the review at ArtsHub ]
Its coherence as a piece of theatre is a credit to writer C.J. Johnson and director Tim Roseman, who pioneered the ‘Rapid Write’ process to radically reduce the time-lapse between first draft and first night, allowing plays to still feel topical when they arrive on the stage.
[ read the review at ArtsHub ]
It was possible, if you knew the nature of the Echo’s walls, and had enough patience, to hear old sounds return, and glimpse scraps of the past stitched like patchwork onto the present. After the glasses were cleared away and the tabletops wiped; once the jukebox had exhausted its hurry-up-and-go-home selection of thrash metal, country and Celine Dion; when the lights were dimmed, the door closed and the barman’s footsteps had faded away; there, in the gloom, the walls of the pub began to resonate.
Night after night’s jazz, blues, laughter, the clink and occasional crash of glass; every belch, every shouted argument, every phrase on the tenor sax had been absorbed into the old walls, along with cigarette smoke and the tang of beer. They emerged in any order, or none. A giggle and a whisper from the 1970s followed a sour diatribe about the new girl who’d started last week. If you were lucky you could hear whole songs, perhaps even entire sets from the early 40s, or the chirruping of the birds that had been the pub’s only inhabitants during its derelict years.
Sparks, this year’s edition of Sydney University’s anthology of new writing, was launched yesterday at the Coop Bookshop by eminent poet Mark Tredinnick. Among its prose and poetry is my story, ‘The Echo’, excerpted above. Sparks is published by Darlington / SUP and available now.
The theatre cannot compete with television, and should not try. What it can offer us is a few moments away from the tyranny of the contemporary world’s presentism and banality.
[ read the review at ArtsHub ]
…Sloterdijk’s trilogy is nothing if not a giant meta-narrative, wheels within wheels, an heroically immodest exercise in universal history of the most defiantly, monstrously unfashionable kind.
My review of Peter Sloterdijk’s Bubbles, translated into English by Wieland Hoban for Semiotext(e) / MIT Press, is out on the Los Angeles Review of Books (and at time of writing, was featured on the Arts & Letters Daily homepage).
[ read it ]