Thursday, October 28, 2010

The New Life...

I have just finished reading Orhan Pamuk's The New Life. Wow. The blurb on the cover warned me that is was like a cross between Borges and The Usual Suspects, but I don't think I was quite prepared for the actualisation of such a claim.

Let me start by saying it was brilliant, pensive and disturbing. You are taken on a journey with the narrator that you may find yourself not wanting to be on. The book is philosophical, it questions the meaning of life, memories, how to live well, what is love... etc. etc. But is also pursues darker pathways, sketching realities that I wasn't always ready for. It is not scary per say, but obsessive, unbalanced and neurotic.

I always find it difficult when I am torn between liking the character and emphasising with them and at the same time knowing that they are disturbed and that their behaviour is not excusable (like Dexter). In terms of the Borges comparison, at times it feels as if he has consumed Borges' back catalogue and assimilated it into his subconscious. Akin to Borges' tale Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote, or intertextuality theories of "authorship" - as Roland Bathes argued:

"A text is... a multidimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations... The writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. His only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others, in such a way as never to rest on any one of them."

That does not detract from the effectiveness of the novel and Pamuk's unique writing style. While it reminded me of Borges, it is like nothing I have ever read before. Part road novel, mystical and pathological thriller with magic realist leanings - like the ability to step outside "normal" reality like a Murakami novel or even a Kurt Vonnegut novel - Pamuk's book is clever, reflective, not graphic and yet, unsettling and disturbing. But, certainly worth reading.

Have you read anything by Pamuk, Vonnegut, Murakami or Borges?

William Carlos Williams and Nigel Roberts...

William Carlos Williams image credit

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

- William Carlos Williams, Spring and All


how many times

have I asked you

to get that barrow

& those chickens


out of the rain.

- Nigel Roberts, Steps for Astaire

I love this mischievous yet respectful response from an Australian poet to an American poet of another, earlier generation. It is for me quirky and clever. The Doctor-poet William Carlos Williams(1883 - 1963), famed friend of Ezra Pound, Marcel Duchamp and T.S Eliot; he was an inspiration to Allen Ginsberg and many others involved in the Beat Generation, as well as for many other successive generations of writers. His imagist poems are beautiful in their brevity and simplicity, but he was also capable of writing involved and protracted verse. William Carlos Williams: Modernist, socialist, pediatrician, general practitioner, mentor and poet. Do you have a favorite WCW poem?

Nigel Roberts (1941-) is a lesser known Australian poet, published in John Tranter's 1979 New Australian Poets anthology, thus including him under the umbrella of the "Generation of '68" or "New Australian Poets". Roberts wrote, among other things, the wonderful collection of poems In Casablanca for the Waters, published in 1977 and Steps for Astaire in 1983. He was described by John Tranter in 1977 as "school-teacher, part-time football player, heavy smoker and poet". He would be about 69 years old now, I wonder what he is up to these days?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Oh to be in Melbourne...

for the Australian Festival of Travel Writing, on from the 29th to the 30th of October. The program looks great! I would love to go to see quite a lot of the talks, but the "What is Travel Writing" one looks really interesting, looking at travel writing in the past, now and into the future.

I would like to say congratulations to my friends, Dave and Liz, who have just published a wonderful article, The Moustache Brothers, in this months "The Big Issue" magazine. The story is based upon their travels earlier this year to Myanmar (Burma) and this writer-photographer duo sprang to mind immediately when I stumbled upon the Travel Writing festival, I hope they get to go to it!

Howl is in Australia next month!!!

From the Brisbane International Film Festival website:


"Poetry makes nothing happen," said W.H. Auden. But he didn't live to see the impact that Alan Ginsberg's 1956 masterpiece 'Howl' had on conservative America post-WWII.

Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have created an experimental format to show the shockwaves produced by one single piece of writing. Their unorthodox approach includes a simulated interview with Ginsberg (played by James Franco), dramatisations of his life and the landmark obscenity trial his poem incited, and finally, the poem itself: imagined in surreal animation.

A deeply satisfying intellectual deconstruction and analysis of the poet as well as the poem,Howl brings Ginsberg's seminal work to yet another generation of young radicals.

"A genre-bending hybrid that brilliantly captures a pivotal moment – the birth of a counterculture." – Sundance Film Festival

D Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman P Elizabeth Redleaf, Christine Kunewa Walker, Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman Dist Madman Films TD 35mm/2009

Please select a session time below to view session pricing.
Fri 5 Nov9:15 PMPalace Barracks Cinema 2
Sat 13 Nov6:30 PMPalace Centro Cinema 2

Friday, October 22, 2010

Part of Kerouac's NY Times obituary...

October 22, 1969
Jack Kerouac, Novelist, Dead; Father of the Beat Generation
Author of 'On the Road' was Hero to Youth--Rejected Middle-Class Values Jack Kerouac, the novelist who named the Beat Generation and exuberantly celebrated its rejection of middle-class American conventions, died early yesterday of massive abdominal hemorrhaging in a St. Petersburg, Fla., hospital. He was 47 years old.

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time," he wrote in "On the Road," a novel he completed in only three weeks but had to wait seven years to see published.

When it finally appeared in 1957, it immediately became a basic text for youth who found their country claustrophobic and oppressive. At the same time, it was a spontaneous and passionate celebration of the country itself, of "the great raw bulge and bulk of my American continent."

Mr. Kerouac's admirers regarded him as a major literary innovator and something of a religious seer, but this estimate of his achievement never gained wide acceptance among literary tastemakers.

The Beat Generation, originally regarded as a bizarre bohemian phenomenon confined to small coteries in San Francisco and New York, spilled over into the general culture in the nineteen-sixties. But as it became fashionable to be beat, it became less fashionable to read Jack Kerouac.

The full text is available here.

41 years later... and over thirty books in print... it is not "fashionable" to read Kerouac in my mind, but it is desirable.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hemingway: Men Without Women...

I read Heminway's Men Without Women today, it is a novella sized book of short stories, my favorite being "A Canary for One". In it there are bull fighting, fishing, war and love stories. They are beautifully brief, they sketch moments and small periods of time - a train ride or a conversation in a cafe - with an elegant conciseness that is compelling and complex.

This is my fifth Hemingway book (and I tried to read Death in the Afternoon, but it is just about bull fights and was too much for me) and I find that his work in general is solid but with warmth, he is a boxer, fisherman, hunter, bull fight lover and decorated solider; but he has compassion, he is reflective, observant and conscientious. I enjoyed sweeping though this little book of short stories in a day and meeting new Hemingway characters that he gives legs and eyes, sweat and fears, he makes them flesh. Such a wonderful writer, such a sad decline in alcoholism and depression; strangely his father and two siblings also committed suicide as well as a grand daughter.

Hemingway was also awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954, the year after Sir Winston Churchill received it for Literature, still the only British Prime Minister to get one for Litertaure.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Prizes, poetry and skittish thoughts...

Sartre image
To accept, or not to accept...

I have been reading Pascale Casanova's work for the past year now for my thesis. Her book The World Republic of Letters ostensibly offers an alternative system for world literature and comparative literature, based upon (among many other things) Goethe's idea of the Weltliteratur (his term for world literature).

In 1827 Goethe told his student Johann Peter Eckermann, "I am more and more convinced that poetry is the universal possession of mankind, revealing itself everywhere and at all times in hundreds of men... I therefore like to look about me in foreign nations, and advise everyone to do the same. National literature is now a rather unmeaning term; the epoch of world literature is at hand, and everyone must strive to hasten its approach."

Poetry as a serious commitment, a "universal possession of mankind" is something many poets would agree with, I am thinking specifically about Shelley's A Defense of Poetry, where he calls poets the "unacknowledged legislators of the world", Whitman's call to Poets to Come, "Arose! for you must justify me", Ginsberg's "taking up the laurel tree cudgel", from Whitman in an early draft of A Supermarket in California and even Lawerence Ferlinghetti's Populist Manifesto No. 1, where he bids "Whitman's wild children" to "awake".

Casanova doesn't deal much with poetry however, she spends a great deal of time considering novels and this is all well and good, but one of her main arguments about "world literary space" depends upon recognition. The Nobel Prize is one such institution that she sites regularly as being an arbitrator of literary worth. I have just been looking at the Nobel Prize website at this years winner Mario Vargas Llosa and I was reminded about Jean Paul Sartre refusing the prize in 1964. The Nobel website reads:

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1964 was awarded to Jean-Paul Sartre "for his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a far-reaching influence on our age".

Jean-Paul Sartre declined the Nobel Prize.

Sartre was the first person to decline the award and even wrote a letter asking to be taken off the nominations list. In the aftermath he said that he didn't want to be "institutionalized" or "transformed" by such an award. Arguably the Nobel Prize for literature is the highest commendation a writer can receive from the "establishment" and (aside from Paris) for Casanova it is the gates-head or clearing house of world literature. So what was Sartre actually rejecting? Western late stage capitalism? The mains stream misunderstanding about his work that already frustrated him? Or could he be above the Nobel Prize in a sense as he didn't need it to catapult him to international fame?

Interesting also to note that Sartre's ex-friend Albert Camus recieved the award seven years before Sartre and was the second youngest Nobel winner (after Kipling). Camus was awarded it in 1957 for:

"his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times".

Maybe another reason not to accept?

So do we accept the institution? How much weight do we put on the outcome of awards?

Do texts still have the ability to change the world?

Is poetry still considered a serious commitment?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Philip K Dick on the little screen...

Thanks to The Casual Optimist I found out about two Philip K Dick related items. One is a BBC documentary made in 1994 about Philip K Dick called A Day in the Afterlife (follow the link) and the other is that Ridley Scott (of Bladerunner fame) is working on anther Phillip K Dick adaptation, this time for BBC1. The four part mini-series will be based upon Dick's The Man in the High Castle. More information available about this on the Guardian UK website.

For more about the man, there is a wonderful biography on the Philip K Dick website.

Maybe someone will get me The Man in the High Castle for Christmas if I am really good?
Hint hint family.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday wrap up...

I haven't been posting as much as usual of late because I am reading and writing for my literature review that is due next month. It is a lot of work, but in the process I get to read some amazing books and fantastic poetry. Over the weekend I read Michael Dransfield: A Retrospective, a book of Dransfield's poetry selected and introduced by John Kinsella, and I can't help but be amazed at the maturity of the poems and the prolific writings of Dransfield considering he died when he was only 24 years old. Drandsfield idolised Arthur Rimbaud who was also a prolific young writer, but who gave up poetry at the age of 21 and died at the early age of 37. Perhaps "the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long" to quote one of my favourite films - Bladerunner, based off the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick.

Have also been reading Parnassus Mad Ward: Michael Dransfield and the New Australian Poetry by Livio Dobrez, which contains some of the best close reading of poetry that I have come across. In other university related news, I am off to a conference in January at the University of Sydney - very exciting. Now just have to figure out how to get to conferences in New York, Paris and London etc. etc.

Today in the mail my copy of Hemingway's Men Without Women arrived, which I don't have time to read at the moment, but I was re-inspired by his work after watching Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure series recently. I also received last week my copy of The New Life by Orhan Pamuk and can't wait to read it also. Alain de Botton said that it "Brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the Turkish hinterland, the Anatolian steppe and its small towns with their statues of Ataturk, greasy bars and plastic billboards" and if that isn't evocative enough the Guardian described it as "Like Borges crossed with The Usual Suspects... You could become obsessed with this book." I love Borges and I want to read Snow by Pamuk also (maybe after the thesis?).
To add to my increasing list of books to read, I have also ordered the Lonely Planet guide to the Middle East in preparation for our adventure there next year and I have been watching documentaries about Egypt, the Moors and the Crusades. Also caught up with my twin sister and re-watched Annie Hall, still one of my top five movies of all time. So life is busy but good!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Looking for something to read?

Howard Jacobson has won the 2010 Man Booker Prize for fiction for The Finkler Question published by Bloomsbury. The announcement on the Man Booker website explains that:

The Finkler Question is a novel about love, loss and male friendship, and explores what it means to be Jewish today.

Said to have ‘some of the wittiest, most poignant and sharply intelligent comic prose in the English language', The Finkler Question has been described as ‘wonderful' and ‘richly satisfying' and as a novel of ‘full of wit, warmth, intelligence, human feeling and understanding'.

For an excerpt of the novel, check out the New York Times and for a review, see the Telegraph.

‘He should have seen it coming. His life had been one mishap after another. So he should have been prepared for this one..

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Who is Martin Reynolds?

I am currently reading e.e cumming's The Enormous Room. I picked up this foxed and dog eared Penguin classic up from a Lifeline Bookfest in Toowoomba (100km SW of Brisbane) last year. Curiously there is an inscription inside the cover under the name Martin Reynolds. He wrote:

Aug 1971.
I think I shall have to read more of ee cummings, having enjoyed this book more than somewhat. Partly, because first books always have a certain raw charm.

The inscription is a little mystery and a reminder of this books past life. Who was Martin Reynolds and who gave his book to a charity? I googled Martin Reynolds and found that it is a more popular name than I could have imagined; turns out Martin Reynolds was a British athlete, a banker, a designer, senior executive etc. etc. I wonder who my Martin Reynolds was? Who wrote this sweet reflection and revealed unintentionally their thirty-nine year old insight?

It reminds me of an article I posted the other day about lost libraries and the way writers libraries are divided up and sold after their deaths. Maybe in that light, this little scribble is a bitter sweet find, or just raw charm? Maybe I should leave little notes for future readers of my books? I love it when you buy a secondhand book and find an old bookmark or train ticket in it!

Have you ever found anything interesting in a second hand book?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Spoken Verse...

If you want to hear some of the most beautiful and moving poems read by a man with a beautiful and moving voice, please check out poetry read by Tom O'Bedlam on YouTube. I've been listening to Whitman's "Oh Captain! My Captain!" , "If" by Kipling and "Paradise Lost" by Milton... very special.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why haven't I heard of that?

Do you ever find yourself saying, "Why haven't I heard of that?".
"Where have I been... under a rock?"...
I have (it happens a lot more than I would like it to actually), but it has happened twice in the last two days.

The first one was over the author Orhan Pamuk, apparently Turkey's most famous novelist, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for literature, previously embroiled in an international freedom of speech/ civil rights campaign after being charged for insulting the Turkish republic. He has ten honorary doctorates from universities like Yale, Madrid, Florence and Berlin. As well as ongoing, unanswered controversies over plagiarism. His writing has been compared to Kerouac and Kafka and thanks to ebay and the strong Australian dollar, seven bucks later and I have purchased The New Life by Orhan Pamuk. How had I never heard of this remarkable writer?

The second time that I realised that despite having completed a Bachelor or Arts majoring in Literature, and a Masters of Literature and commencing a PhD in Literature, I actually must live under a rock as I have never come across Bookshelf Porn before! One can tick off several of the seven deadly sins when looking at this page (greed, lust, envy etc.), however it is totally G rated (so you can look at it in the office, or if the children are around). Books, books and more books... oh! Thanks to Paperback Reader for linking to Bookshelf Porn!

I really need to get out from under my rock and look around a bit more!

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Part of Life...

Thanks to Nonsuck Book blog who showcased a new series of advertisements for Penguin publishing in Malaysia by Saatchi and Saatchi advertising I got to see these beautiful images and wanted to share them. I think that the images are fantastic, but I am not sure about the Unputdownable title of these clever little ads. They say more to me about reading being a part of daily life, or about the nature of the format of the book, as Jorge Luis Borges said over twenty years ago:

I believe that books will never disappear. It is impossible that that will happen. Among the many inventions of man, the book, without a doubt, is the most astounding: all the others are extensions of our bodies. The telephone for example, is the extension of our voice; the telescope and the microscope are extensions of our sight: the swords and the plough are extensions of our arms. Only the book is an extension of our imagination and memory.

From: Alifano, Roberto. Twenty Four Conversations with Borges. Massachusetts: Lascaux Publishers, 1984.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I've just watch the movie Seraphine (2008) about Seraphine Louis (aka Seraphine of Senlis), a slow moving, achingly beautiful French film about this obscure self-taught painter discovered by art collector Whilhelm Uhde - his life seems just as fascinating as Seraphine's- a German Jew fleeing France in World War One and hiding in the south of France during World War Two. Uhde was one of the first to buy Picasso's work and also discovered Henri Rousseau.

The film unravels slowly, we meet Seraphine the devout, vacant cleaner who we later discover secretly paints at night. Uhde becomes her mentor after seeing her work in Senlis, but has to flee due to the war. Thankfully he comes back and in the intervening years Seraphine has done what he instructed her to do - keep painting - and her work has reached a whole new level of beauty and complexity. Without giving too much more away, it is a wonderful story, another bitter sweet biopic about an extraordinary life. For me, better than the recent biopics I have seen on Darwin and Tolstoy, much more interwoven and not as depressing (however, it is still fairly sad, as is life).

A really interesting film and a great performance by Yolande Moreau (most well known for her roles in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's films -like Micmacs and Amelie where she was the weeping neighbor Madeleine Wallace, whose husband had run off with his secretary ).

Go to the official website if you want to watch the trailer for this beautiful film, it will certainly make you want to know more about this remarkable woman.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Last day...

Last day of Banned Books week today. Hope you managed to check out some of the banned books websites, read a banned book or just think about our social freedoms and how important they are to protect. And if you missed out on all the fun, check out Ginsberg reading Howl. It is my favorite "banned book" of all time.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Lost Libraries...

I read an interesting article, Lost Libraries about what happens to writers libraries when they die... probably not what you think would happen actually. Found via The Casual Optimist. The article mentioned thousands of Hemingway's books were still at his villa in Cuba. This lead me to an article on Hemingway's Cuban villa, Saving the Hemingway Villa, but to see inside the villa check out this CBS clip.

Another interesting note: Hemingway only met Castro once in his twenty years on the island.
Hemingway survived two plane crashes within 48 hours of one another when in Africa.

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master”- Hemingway