Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sterne finishes here. What's that? you say. Is it March already? Obviously it's not (you clod) - I've cunningly preempted the post-festive season doldrums by bringing next year's retirement forward to this year. See: cunning.

The Ghost of Blogging Past is off sick today so you're spared the traditional maudlin nostalgia. Suffice to say that Sterne started off as a laugh, developed into something arguably more interesting, if wildly uneven, but hasn't been up to scratch for some time now. Time to move on, and this time I mean it. (*Tears cloud his eyes as he pets the faithful hound one last time before raising his shotgun...*)

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Man Celebrates Not Celebrating Christmas

Christmas always comes early for Melbourne man Robert West, even though he doesn't actually celebrate the holiday.

"This is my favourite time of year," West told Sterne. "I get to show off how world-weary and cynical I am, all the while scoring points against soft targets like organised religion and mass consumerism. It's like, well, it's like all my Christmases come at once!"

West's pontificating doesn't stop at religion and shopping. The holiday season he vehemently opposes also affords West the opportunity to speak out on a range of subsidiary topics.

"I love going to Christmas lunch at my parents' place. I don't eat anything, or exchange any gifts - my constant haughty derision is gift enough. Last year I made my cousin cry by explaining in minute detail the battery-farming and slaughtering process that had resulted in the turkey she was eating. And then I sabotaged the bon-bons by replacing all the jokes with selections from Mao's Little Red Book. It was totally subversive, although for some reason everybody still laughed. But they won't be laughing after the revolution! Then there won't be any bon-bons for anybody!"

West said that while his anti-Christmas stance began as an undergraduate pose - "You know, making a point of writing 'xmas', vandalising nativity scenes, knifing shopping centre Santas, that sort of thing" - it has since become a true reflection of his character and beliefs.

"I really am this nauseatingly smug all year round," he said. "Christmas just gives me the chance to show it off."

_______________
This Xmas rerun was originally posted on Dec 21, 2005.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

An anticlimactic tale

I went into the kitchen this morning to put the kettle on. While I was there I looked out the kitchen window and noted that everything was normal: birds were singing, trees were producing sap/leaves, the clothesline was turning clockwise in a gentle, almost wistful, manner. Most importantly, none of the houses within my purview appeared to be on fire. I left the kettle to do its thing and went back to whatever it was I was doing. (Staring blankly at the loungeroom wall, if I recall correctly.)

I returned to the kitchen a few minutes later and made a cup of coffee. Glancing out the kitchen window I couldn't help noticing that there was an enormous column of thick brown smoke billowing from a house around the corner. "Shit!" says I, and various thoughts scurried through my (thus-far-uncaffienated) mind, eg. Shit! That house is on fire! Surely somebody else has noticed! I mean, shit! The house is on fire! Should I call 000? What if somebody else has already done that! But what if everybody else in the neighbourhood has a job and I'm the only pathetic person home at this hour to notice the fire and therefore the only person who can call 000? Or, what if I'm the only person at home except for the people in the house which is on fire? What then? What if they die? Should I call 000 or should I run around the corner and make certain that the house is on fire (although it clearly is), and if so whether there is anybody inside, whom I will then presumably have to rescue and maybe I'll have to appear on the news for having effected said rescue in which case I will really regret having put on this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt when I got up this morning, but anyway it's the right thing to do, I'm not a hero, I'm just doing what any Aussie would do...

While my brain was faffing around my body had taken control and I was off, dashing down the street and around the corner where I was confronted by an incredible amount of smoke. I had expected at least a few other people to be milling around in the street, mobiles to their ears, but it was deserted. The smoke continued to billow from the rear of the house, although I couldn't see any flames. I decided to get a closer look, so I ran down the driveway, through the side gate, and moved hesitantly into the backyard. The smoke was so thick that I expected the back half of the house to be engulfed in flame and I quickly calculated my course of action: first, call the fire brigade; second, try to find out if anybody is inside and if so attempt to rescue them; third, go home and change into that nice lilac shirt I bought for my brother's wedding, just in case the camera crews turn up.

Obviously I didn't actually want the house to be on fire, but I have to say I was a little disappointed when I got into the backyard proper and saw that the house was undamaged. Then I realised that there was a man standing in the centre of the yard with a garden hose in his hand and a cigarette dangling from his lip. At his feet was a heap of semi-wet leaves that he had evidently set on fire for some reason and was now trying to extinguish.

"Ya right?" he said, flicking cigarette ash into the leaf-pile, which was of course the source of all the smoke.

"Yeah," I said. "I live around the corner. I thought your house was on fire!"

"Nah. Just the leaves. I'm burnin' them."

He seemed disinclined to continue with this witty banter, so I slunk off home, muttering to myself. By the time I got back my coffee was cold so I called the local council and dobbed in the leaf man for burning off. I hope they put him away for life.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Santa-skeptic child "still fundamentally credulous"

Local eight-year-old Marc Coleman's misgivings about the nature of his parents' relationship to Santa Claus have this year developed into full-blown skepticism.

"Marc began expressing doubts this time last year," Marc's mother, Judy Coleman, told Sterne. "It was just little things, things only a mother would notice, like when he drew a picture at school of Santa Claus with the words 'MOTHERFUCKING LIE!!!' scrawled underneath in red texta. That was the first clue that our little guy was growing out of the Santa stage."

The situation has worsened in recent weeks with the irrepressible lad now openly questioning his parents' honesty.

"I asked Marc what he would like Santa to bring him for Christmas. He looked at me and said, 'I don't know, what would you like to bring me for Christmas, Santa - oops, I mean, Mum.' I really don't know where he picked up that sarcastic tone. Bill [Marc's father] and I tend to be more spiteful and cruel than sarcastic."

Fortunately, Marc is "still fundamentally credulous" and prepared to swallow just about anything else his parents tell him.

"Bill and I had a fight the other night and afterwards Marc asked me if his Dad and I still loved one another. I looked deep into his innocent blue eyes and told him yes, we love one another very much and always will. Sucker bought it without flinching. Who's the know-it-all cynic now?"

Bill Coleman agrees with his wife's assessment.

"Yes, the Santa thing's become untenable but Marc still trusts us implicitly. He still believes in the Tooth Fairy, he still believes his dog has gone to live on a farm, and he still believes he can do whatever he wants with his life if he just puts his mind to it. We can probably string him along with that last one for at least another decade. Best of all, Marc still believes in his good old Dad. Just the other day I promised I'd play cricket with him after work. Of course I forgot and went to the pub instead, but when I got home there was Marc sitting on the front porch in the dark with his cricket bat waiting for me. Brought tears to my eyes it did - this kid really will believe almost anything!"

Writers, please stop using:

quotidian

oneiric

cleaves (I used this once, but then I got help.)

limn

You don't have to be despondent to work here but it helps

I had a phone interview this afternoon that was distinguished by the interviewer's strenuous efforts to convince me that the job she was interviewing me for isn't worth having.

"Now, the job is desk-bound and repetitive. The same task will be performed again and again for hours on end with only minor variations. How does that sound to you?"

"Um. Ok."

"The salary is $[unimpressive number]. That includes super loading. The before-tax salary is $[even less impressive number]. Employees also receive [paltry subsidiary benefits]. How does that sound to you?"

"Uh. Fine..."

"We're located [a long way from anywhere]. Public transport is limited. Do you have a car?"

"No."

"Then you'll struggle to get here. Even with a car it can be a struggle. [Laughs nervously]"

And on it went. I'm certain she must have finished the interview and started drafting her resignation.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

New review

My review of Murray Bail's The Pages is in Issue 14 of The Quarterly Conversation. I'm pleased to have contributed to an especially strong issue of this always-excellent online quarterly. Issue 14 features eleven book reviews (including TQC editor Scott Esposito on Roberto Bolano's 2666) plus essays on Gaddis, DFW, Carter Scholz, and more.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ate tracks

This mix is for Bel. Others may also listen, here or here:



He War, Cat Power
I Found Out, John Lennon
How Could I Be Wrong, The Auteurs
Shabby Doll, Elvis Costello & the Attractions
The Magnificent Seven, The Clash
Acid Tongue, Jenny Lewis
Seven Days Is Too Long, Dexys Midnight Runners
Sad Dark Eyes, Mick Harvey
Guilt, The Long Blondes
Editions of You, Roxy Music
Sacred Songs, Daryl Hall
Aviatrix, Jack Frost
White Rabbit, Jefferson Airplane
I've Been Out Walking, Nina Nastasia & Jim White
Bigmouth Strikes Again, The Smiths

Picture of The Long Blondes' Kate Jackson used under CC courtesy of celticblade.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Job

I don't have one (again). Actually I haven't had one for over a fortnight now, but I've been too ashamed/drunk to mention it here. It's the usual story ie. a long and boring one. I didn't especially like the job, but I expected that. What made it unbearable was a protracted campaign of arseholeness towards me on behalf of the manager and assistant manager. They just didn't like me - honestly, how is that possible?! - and after a while I stopped trying to get them to like me, preferring instead to ignore everybody and engage in subtle and inconsequential acts of sabotage. This was a new experience for me - normally I manage to strike up at least some kind of working relationship with even the most obnoxious people. Anyway, I was already considering quitting when it became apparent that I was being subjected to the classic method of getting rid of casual staff: leaving their names off the roster. I took the hint and told them where to stick it.

So now I'm unemployed yet again. Although the constant barrage of bad economic news doesn't fill me with confidence, I do feel that I am due for a change of fortune. (That's about as glass-half-full as I get, I'm afraid.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I'm not here, this isn't happening

Obviously I am here and this is happening. I was just testing if you were paying attention.

New 8tracks mix. Listen here or use the widget:



"Used Go-Go", Kazutoki Umezu (Ribot alert!)
"The Yesness", The Matthew Herbert Big Band
"Cuts and Lies", Acoustic Ladyland
"Moonshine", Dave Douglas
"The Movers and the Shakers", Herbert
"Montuno", Marc Ribot
"STHLM", The Vandermark 5
"When the Levee Breaks", Stanton Moore
"At Les", Innerzone Orchestra
"(Little) King Ink", Flat Earth Society (takes a while to get going, then it's epic)

Photo from here.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Come to my arms, my memish boy!

A book meme, via Laura.

What was the last book you bought?


Make that books because I had a bit of a spree on Tuesday: Bornholm Night-Ferry by Aidan Higgins, Not Fade Away by Jim Dodge, two of James Sallis's Lew Griffin books, and Burning Your Boats by Angela Carter.

Name a book you have read MORE than once:

The books I have read most (ie. probably at least a half-dozen times each) are the ones I was especially enamored with as a teenager: Dune, Catch-22, Good Omens, Use of Weapons, A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court, various Wodehouses, Vonneguts, James Ellroys, Carl Hiaasens, Michael Moorcocks, Ballards, R.L. Stevensons, etc. As an "adult" the books I keep returning to include: A High Wind In Jamaica, Lolita/Pnin/Pale Fire, Titus Groan, Lucky Jim, Martin Amis up to and including The Information, Wodehouse, Raymond Chandler, Decline and Fall, But Beautiful, and probably a dozen more that I can't think of right now.

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?

Certain non-fiction books have been eye-opening in various ways. I'm not sure fiction could ever change the way I see life - I'm not even sure what that means - but perhaps the steady accretion of reading experience has altered my thinking in ways I can't objectively analyse.

How do you choose a book? e.g. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews?

It's more serendipity than anything else. As for cover design, I generally won't choose a book because it has a good cover, but I do sometimes reject a book because of a bad cover.

Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?

Fiction.

What's more important in a novel - beautiful writing or a gripping plot?

I like traffic lights.

Most loved/memorable character?

Bertie Wooster/Jeeves. You can't really have one without the other.

Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?

Stone Junction by Jim Dodge.

What was the last book you read?

Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis. It was terrible.

Have you ever given up on a book halfway in?

Many times. I sometimes give up on books halfway through the first page.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Self-promotion

My review of Louis Nowra's Ice is in the November Australian Book Review. The issue also includes my "In Brief" review of Wayne Grogan's Heavy Allies.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Arts degree

For the last fricken time, no, it doesn't mean I can paint!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bring the, or at least some, noise

Following Amanda's lead I have signed up to 8tracks which is similar to the late lamented Muxtape but more reliable and user-friendly. My first mix is of recent jazz (save for the David Murray tune, which is from 1980, although to some that probably counts as "recent jazz"), including four tracks from the Clean Feed label which I'm big on right now. Listen here or make use of the widget:



"Spain Intro", Michel Camilo & Tomatito
"The Whimbler", Gerry Hemingway Quartet
"Gat Swamba", Garage a Trois
"Hard Sole Shoe", Jenny Scheinman
"Old Grooves for New Streets 2", Way Out West
"Correspondent", Mi3
"The Last of the Beboppers", Adam Lane
"Big Love (For Joe Giardullo)", Luis Lopes
"Dewey's Circle", David Murray

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Red is the new black

Karl Marx is back in fashion, which explains why I keep seeing young ladies heading off to the races with large bearded Germans draped over their shoulders.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Barrington Bayley

He died the other day. If you like weird sf you need to track down some of his books.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The upside of the downslide

Sportsbet chief executive officer Matt Tripp said in an economic crisis people drank and bet more.

"I'm sure the mindset of a punter broadly changes a little bit when his back's against the wall. I can assure you our turnover hasn't dropped at all, we're actually writing more bets than we ever have," he said.
What a wonderful, glass-half-full perspective Mr Tripp has. If only more people could be so positive - but I suppose then there would be less despair for Mr Tripp and his ilk to make money from.

Shiny and new

I live in Melbourne's "leafy" eastern suburbs, about equidistant between two very different commercial centres. To the south is the Box Hill shopping centre/transport hub/mall/open sewer conglomeration, which, despite the vomit spatter and ever present threat of having a cigarette put out on your face, is nevertheless vibrant and honest and has a lot of shops with funny names (Nob Nobs, Hung Long Video, Hellboy e-gift).

Box Hill (artist's impression)

To the north is Doncaster Shoppingtown, a 1970s shopping centre clustered around a small office tower and buried under several square miles of car park. The centre has recently undergone significant renovations, allegedly doubling the number of shops in the complex - just in time for the recession!

Doncaster Shoppingtown (artist's impression)

The final stage of the renovation was unveiled yesterday morning and I happened to be there to see it. Unfortunately I couldn't get past the burly men in suits who were guarding the roped-off VIP section, but I'm told the Premier was there, cutting a ribbon or whatever Premiers do when opening new shopping centres. (Perhaps they go to Target and lay the first by?) The whole place is incredibly shiny - we saw a guy mopping a load-bearing pillar! - and there are plenty of posters telling you how classy the joint is. Also, because there's a Myer in the building, there are pictures of Jennifer Hawkins and her one facial expression everywhere you look.

The new Shoppingtown is even more pretentious than the old one. There's a David Jones, a Colonial Fresh supermarket,where the fruit and veg are kept crisp by a constant drizzle of vapourised water, a shop called Jones the Grocer, which is about as wanky as it sounds. There is even a "butler service", whatever that means in the context of a shopping centre.

Westfield is clearly trying to position Shoppingtown as the shopping centre for this part of the world. (Previous title holder: Blackburn Square. Just kidding.) It will be interesting to see how it fares, especially with the economy in the toilet, and with competition from outlet malls like Brand Smart and the Do Fuck Off empire. No doubt by Christmas the various luxury services will have tapered off, the pillar-mopper will have been turfed onto the streets, and there will be a Dimmeys where David Jones used to be. That'll bring in the crowds - from Box Hill.

Fuxtaposition

The MS Paint arrow and exclamation marks say it all.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Thirty today

I'll be thirty tomorrow, too, and for the 363 days after that, so it's probably not worth getting too worked up about. We did have a party though - I wrote and scheduled this post beforehand so I wouldn't be tempted to write any maudlin requiems for my lost youth when I came home drunk at some ungodly hour. That's the kind of forward planning we mature types specialise in.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Back to the

Waiting for my train last night I noticed this on the platform:

It didn't seem to be working, hence I am writing this in the present.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The soul of man under retail

I have discovered the cure for aging: get a job where they treat you like you're sixteen, even if you're not!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Basted

My (brief) review of Michael Meehan's novel Deception is in the October Australian Book Review. Readers who recall this post might be amused by the contributor bio they've given me. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to my castle in the Loire.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Sorrows of Young Liberal

Dear Jacqueline,

There has been much speculation about the relationship reforms I proposed last week, that is to say, the fact that I asked you out. Much of this comes from persons with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo - specifically Ken, who practically dribbles with lust every time you walk into the room, and who once described me as a "pompous wanker". Then there are those whose negative stance is influenced less by rational analysis than ideological prejudice. Scott, that daft Stalinist, falls into this category. In short, you are being given misleading advice by your so-called "friends", so I have decided to present you with the facts in the hope that you will come around.

MYTH: I'm only after sex.

FACT: I am not only after sex. In fact, if you examine the figures, you will see that sex constitutes only forty-nine percent of my expectations. Due consideration is also given to such key facets of our (potential) relationship as: holding hands in public, curling up in front of McLeod's Daughters, and talking about our feelings. Sex is a factor, but let me assure you that I am an advocate of mutual obligation in the bedroom. Put it this way: you serve up the pie, I'll eat it. You can't ask fairer than that.

MYTH: I am a sexist pig.

FACT: This is nothing but a vicious calumny put about by those who seek to discredit me. I have five sisters, three aunts, one mother and at least half a grandmother (her condition varies depending on the humidity), and I can honestly say I have never once subjugated them to my chauvinist will, not even accidentally. Yes, I do think that a woman's role, in addition to some light vacuuming, is to raise children, and if this marks me out as sexist then I suppose I am sexist. But I don't think I am, and neither do any of my mates down at the gentleman's club.

MYTH: I am a crypto-fascist imperialist.

FACT: Ideological hatred rears its ugly head. Scott (that cretinous collectivist) deployed the f-word in response to certain of my views put forth at a barbecue last year, and ever since I've had to put up with people who should know better calling out "Zeig Heil!" as I wander around campus. This is absurd. I merely suggested that we would be better off invading the entire Middle East and putting all insurgents to the sword - or the most efficient modern equivalent - before installing obedient puppet regimes. If that's crypto-fascist imperialism, I'll eat my new Patriotic Aryan Youth League of Australia hat!

MYTH: I am a dud root.

FACT: This chestnut is courtesy of Mandy who has been preoccupied with defaming my sexual prowess ever since I shagged her senseless during O-week and refused to buy her dinner afterwards. She claims I couldn't get it up and, as a result, was about as much fun as, I quote, "fucking a plate of lukewarm cannelloni". Clearly this is a lie, as my athleticism between the sheets has been well documented by such libidinous luminaries as Catherine, Jess, Claudia, and either May-Na or Wing-Nu - I'm not sure which one I shagged, all those Asian chicks look the same to me. The data supplied by these sources - which roughly breaks down to ninety percent moaning, five percent panting, three percent calling-my-name-in-ecstacy, and two percent squirting of vaginal fluids - indicates that, should you consent to my penis entering your vagina and/or other orifices (this last to be negotiated on an orifice-by-orifice basis), a good time is all but guaranteed.

I trust this letter has put to rest any reservations you might have entertained about my proposal. To conclude, let me say that I envision a lengthy, mutually-satisfying relationship between us, as long as you give up those silly gender studies classes. You don't need them: we can easily study gender in the back seat of my Cortina, and you won't even need to take notes. I sincerely hope this letter has convinced you of my rectitude and suitability. I remain, always and forever,

Jason P. Crisp
President, Young Liberal Pig Shooting Social Club (Victoria)

__________

This month's repost was originally spawned on September 13, 2005. I have a feeling it was sparked by a Federal Government ad campaign addressing various "myths" about Workchoices or something. Oh, and because I wanted to use that line about the pie.

It's been a *long* school holidays...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cheap, nasty, provincial

Did you somehow miss that "50 greatest arts videos on Youtube" thing when it ran in The Observer a month ago and was linked to by almost every blog in the universe? Well, nevermind, because today's Age wasted devoted two-and-a-half pages to printing it.* You know, for the benefit of the five people who own a computer with an internet connection, and who would be interested in a list of the 50 greatest arts videos on Youtube, and yet who somehow managed to miss seeing it the first time around.

*They also put it on the A2 cover, which would be idiotic at the best of times but especially when the International Festival of Brass is on. Why not put some brass on the cover? What have they got against brass? Have they never stopped to consider what brass has done for them?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Work It

Employed again. Obviously this is good from a need-to-eat perspective, and don't get me wrong I'd rather have the job than not, but the fact is it's another retail job and that does take the edge off my post-"You're hired!" euphoria. I suppose if nothing else it will provide an incentive to continue looking for something better.

I've been considering abandoning Sterne and setting up shop elsewhere, a la Pavlov's Cat. Long-term blogs generate a lot of psychic baggage and I wonder if I'd feel refreshed by a change of scenery. Also, I changed to a more accurate site stats provider a couple of weeks ago and have subsequently discovered that at least 70% of the roughly 90-120 daily visitors to Sterne are looking for this picture of Richie Valens, God knows for what reason. Another 20% are searching for things too disgusting to name in this family timeslot, while the remaining 10% consists of regular readers and a dedicated group of enthusiasts who apparently spend their free time googling "West African Fighting Rabbits" (Sterne being the number one, and probably only, considering I invented them, authority on these creatures). It's hard to explain why but I find these stats unsettling - more psychic baggage. If I shift I promise that you, and the Richie Valens/rabbit fanciers, will be the first to know.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

How to cure writer's block

Jump around the room singing along to "Lust for Life". Usually works for me.

Monday, September 15, 2008

All I can say is

if you think David Foster Wallace committed suicide - in a particularly grisly manner no less, although I'm struggling to think of a non-grisly manner - because he was stressed about writing a book(!), or because James Wood criticised his prose(!!), or because John McCain had somehow "let him down" by not being as decent as DFW had portrayed him in "Up, Simba"(!!!), or because he needed more Christ and less thinkin' in his life(!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), or any of the thousand other simplistic "reasons" I've seen people offer on comment threads in the past 24 hrs, then you clearly haven't got a fucking clue about depression or, I'd wager, much else. Then there are the seen-it-all types who shrug their weary shoulders and say, "It's sad, of course, but I'm not surprised - he was obviously troubled." Well, who isn't troubled? Then we get an excerpt from the fiction, like it explains anything and everything. There's only one work of DFW's that might go some way to explaining why he's dead, and it - if it exists - is presumably in his wife's possession, and I doubt she's taking much comfort from it at present. I suppose it's natural - and acceptable - to ask the big post-suicide question: "Why?". It doesn't follow that people who didn't know the guy are entitled to try to answer it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Man Booger

There is a "flavour", writes John Sutherland, to this year's Booker shortlist. Dead bird? Manure? (Not the latter - too fertile.) No, it's accessibility: "None (or at least, not too much) of that boring "literary" crap." So, mostly just crap crap then.

I like the look of Sea of Poppies (Stevenson-esque nautical yarns are all right by me) but the rest of the list is awful. I realise I used a fragment of The Lost Dog to make a point (yes, there was one, somewhere) about some irritating trends in contemporary literary fiction, but overall I was impressed with de Kretser's novel. (I've been dying to say that in public, because it's true and I felt bad about featuring de Kretser's work so prominently in my critique. If I could go back in time I would rewrite that post using an example from a different book; also I would remove the misleading and loaded word "unrealistically" from the first par. Because of course that's what I would do if I had a time machine, go back and edit blog posts.) That it didn't make the cut is testament to the (not entirely unexpected) conservatism of the judges and the (again hardly revelatory) bullshitness of the award itself. Also: no Netherland! Not that I liked the thing, but I'd bet on it to win in an informal sweep. Now I have no chance of winning back my four dollars.

"Babysitting"

Catherine Deveny's column on fatherhood is spot on. Men need to be encouraged to be good parents, but they don't need to be coddled. I speak from experience: without going into specifics, at the age of twenty - a very immature twenty - I had to learn quickly how to look after a child, and although I had (and still have) supportive parents of my own, I soon became reasonably self-reliant and proficient in the arts of parenting. I don't know if I had any views on gender roles in parenting, but if I did they were swiftly overturned by the immediate reality of having a child to look after. I copped my share of condescending remarks ("Babysitting today?"), misguided praise ("So good to see a man brave enough to take his daughter out alone!"), and nasty looks (unfortunately to some people man + child = kidnapping) but I always felt it was axiomatic that you look after your kids, whatever your gender.

It is bizarre to me 1) that women let their men get away with acting like Ward Cleaver, and 2) that men want to act that way in the first place. It's a bit like cooking - my dad (who is, I hasten to add, otherwise an enlightened, generous and active participant in family life) rarely cooks anything more complicated than a slice of toast. I, on the other hand, cook most of my family's meals and tend to think that my dad has missed out on one of the great pleasures of life. The hands-off, Ward Cleaver-types miss out on even more. I can't imagine not being capable of taking my daughters out for the day on my own, or spending the weekend at home with my youngest while my partner is away with friends, or a thousand other day-to-day activities. I would feel incompetent, diminished. I still cop the occasional evil eye or condescending compliment when out pushing the pram, but frankly I don't give a shit. I'm not a novelty act and I'm certainly not doing anything exceptional. I'm just pushing my kid around in her pram, trying to keep her safe and happy, maybe singing her a song. If I had two X chromosomes most people wouldn't even notice.

*

Speaking of dads, last week my local library honoured Father's Day with a display entitled "Dads in Fiction". Nice gesture, except most of the dads in most of the fiction were from the arsehole end of the fatherhood spectrum. Moran from Amongst Women and Frank's father from The Wasp Factory certainly count as "dads in fiction", but they are somewhat less than the Father's Day ideal.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Notes

I am trying to cut down my intake of alcohol, chocolate and Sopranos episodes before I turn into an overweight lush who uses the word "douchebag" as a term of endearment. Regular employment continues to elude me, maybe my resume smells? I'm still trying to figure out what (if anything) to do with Twitter - all the "hilarious" one-liners I come up with are over 140 characters and as for general observations about the world in which we live, well, I haven't had a decent one of those in years. There is a paperback copy of Anna Karenina (Oprah-approved Pevear/Volokhonsky translation) next to my bed, a bookmark lodged between pages 346 and 347, marking the exact point at which I got fed up with Levin banging on about farming techniques. Last Saturday I read And Then There Were None, which for some reason we read in Year 7 English, and which precipitated in me a minor Christie obsession. I was amazed at how well I remembered the book, right down to Christie's extensive use of zoomorphic simile, eg. "wolfish" Philip Lombard, "reptilian" Justice Wargrave, etc. Watched half of Spartacus t'other night; still not convinced of Kubrick's "genius" but did enjoy this line from a review by Anne Grayson, quoted in Halliwell's: "Everything is depicted with a lack of imagination that is truly Marxian." There is a lot of truth in this post about the despair (sometimes) engendered by blogging and other user-generated media, eg. "What makes you feel less bored soon makes you into an addict. What makes you feel less vulnerable can easily turn you into a dick. And the things that are meant to make you feel more connected today often turn out to be insubstantial time sinks — empty, programmatic encouragements to groom and refine your personality while sitting alone at a screen." The Go-Betweens doco on Saturday night was a rare watchable example of the form: actually informative, unpretentious, celebratory but not uncritically so, and with a minimum of ex-hippies turning recording studio knobs with nicotine-stained hands. That'll do for now, despair setting in.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Monday, September 01, 2008

Stuff White Supremacists Like

White power.


Carrot stick fasces.

Puppies, especially white ones.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Six Degrees of Nazification

Scientists including Einstein* have long argued that any person can be connected to Nazism via a chain of no more than five intermediary acquaintances or beliefs. This so-called “Six Degrees of Nazification” is not a new concept: the term was first used in 1906 by Swiss spocktologist Pierre Swille, but it was not until the advent of the Nazi Party in 1920 that it made any sense. Since then, the concept has been used primarily as a parlour game, as well as forming the basis of a short-lived 1986 gameshow hosted by Maurie Fields.

“Six Degrees of Nazification” is in fact a misnomer. As Tagenflagenbelde notes in his 1957 book Schlechter Deutscher Für Schlechte Deutsche the “six” is redundant as by virtue of its Nazi status the last or “goal” degree would on principle have driven the other four degrees into the woods and machine gunned them prior to the connection being made. Thus a typical example of the six degrees takes the form of a simple syllogism of the kind beloved of people with glasses named Aubrey:

Paul McCartney is a vegetarian
Top Nazi Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian
Paul McCartney is a Nazi

John Travolta is a pilot
Top Nazi Hermann Goering was a pilot
John Travolta is a Nazi

This simplified version of the formula is highly popular amongst those wishing to smear their political opponents:

Senator Bob Brown wears suits
Top Nazi Josef Goebbels wore suits
Senator Bob Brown is a Nazi

Schmitt, in his 1975 paper “Aber beklecker nicht das Sofa, Sofa” refutes the validity of this stripped-back formula, although the Japanese translation is said to arrive at the opposite conclusion by way of several highly dubious recipes for home-made old people’s food. McRammstein takes issue with Schmitt in his 1981 paper “Ich bin Freddy Quecksilber”, but we all know McRammstein fiddles with pigeons so his views can be disregarded.

In short, Six Degrees of Nazification is something that exists and you should probably know about it. Apparently there is a film in the works starring Will Smith. Whether he will play the Six Degrees or the Nazification is unknown, but we can confirm that Donald Sutherland has signed to play Anne Frank.

Finally, we turn to Wikipedia to completely contradict everything said thus far:
Six Degrees of Nazification is a board game from Frown & Andrews. Players must move counter-clockwise while manipulating a special orb (Hitler's "ball") upon which images of Walt Disney films are projected, interspersed with random gore from Rob Zombie's remake of His Girl Friday. The first player to eat another player's big toe wins.
* Gerald Einstein, V.C.E., Warrnambool

_____

Yet another look back at Sterne's earlier, funnier/odder, years. This precious gem was originally cut and polished on August 29, 2006.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Saturday morning cartoon

Not sure how accurate this here mangatar is - the hairdo and stubble look a bit too stylish and deliberate rather than the result of laziness/unemployment - but I do own a shirt that is exactly that colour.

And yes, if everybody else jumped off a cliff I'd probably do it too.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Meaning and condescension

Scattered thoughts on certain aspects of contemporary literary fiction

He was thinking of his mother; of the dog; of Osman, in whom death was advancing cell by cell. He felt malevolence gathering force and drawing closer. The children crossed the street, hooded figures from a tale. Life would set them impossible tasks; straw and spinning wheels waited. Tom crossed his fingers and wished them luck: lives reckoned on the blank pages of history. And thought of a night in September when Nelly and he had sat contented in a pub, until people began to gather in front of the TV mounted on the wall at the other end of the bar.
It was their faces that had drawn him: uplifted and calm as churchgoers.
When they parted, Nelly said, 'Everything changes when Americans fall from the sky.'
The Lost Dog, Michelle de Kretser, pp. 140-41

Maybe I'm just tired of novels in which the mopey, passive protagonist wanders around having epiphanies about The World In Which We Live, but I found this passage, and others like it in The Lost Dog, fairly cringe-inducing. I'm going to advance the argument - dwelled upon at length, but admittedly not fully thought out - that a lot of contemporary fiction is diminished by the fact that its characters (protagonists in particular) are unrealistically self-aware of their roles as subjects of history. I don't mean that characters ought to remain blissfully unaware of geopolitics or ideology or local council noise regulations or whatever. I mean that it is contrived to have characters walk around acting, thinking and speaking beyond the ordinary limits of contextual awareness, ie. as self-conscious agents of or actors in historical events. This sense of contrivance includes characters responding to cataclysmic events by saying things like "Everything changes when Americans fall from the sky" - unless it's said in a Don DeLillo novel, in which case the contrivance is itself part of the novel's aesthetic apparatus. (However successful or unsuccessful that might be.)

I'm grasping here at something that has been bothering me about contemporary fiction for a while now. It's related to what I see as the reliance of many authors on a kind of forced profundity, an eagerness to explain great matters through necessarily reductive fictions, which tends to be inimical to the creation of fiction qua fiction, and in most cases has the paradoxical effect of weakening the explanation and undermining the profundity. There is a jigsaw quality to a lot of recent fiction: metaphor, character, setting, etc, all interlock to create an overall meaning or set of meanings that is itself the point of the novel. Of course I don't wish to suggest that meaning in fiction is a recent invention; it does seem to me, however, that the jigsaw method of composition, and the primacy of meaning, has recently become dominant, at least as far as "literary fiction" goes. Peter Ho Davies' The Welsh Girl, nominated for the 2007 Booker, is an example of just such a "jigsaw" novel. My review of the book read in part:
Inevitably, Davies draws Karsten and Esther together for one of those unlikely collaborations that mutual longing – although not necessarily for one another – sometimes conjures. In fact, despite the incongruity of their union, the German soldier and the Welsh farm girl share a common status. Karsten may be literally inside but he is a natural outsider, while Esther is so far outside her native community she is practically neck-deep in the Irish Sea. The reader recalls Rotheram: isn’t he also, in many ways, an outsider? And isn’t the village riven with various permutations of the outsider/insider dichotomy? And isn’t Wales itself an outsider nation? And isn’t – well, you get the idea.
Reading The Welsh Girl I could almost see the flow chart tacked to Davies' wall, plotting out the thematic relationships between the elements of his fiction. I find this approach incredibly condescending; the dialogue between reader and writer (or reader and text) becomes an authorial monologue - this is the message of my book, this is what I want you to take away from it. There is no space for ambiguity, no space for the reader at all. Tolstoy at least had the courtesy to sequester his didactic asides away from the main business of the novel.

To a certain extent I blame 9/11. The preference for literary fiction that tells us things about the world in which we live was already long established when the towers collapsed; the impression I have is that post-9/11 some writers felt that this preference now conferred upon them an obligation. Who would make sense of our tragic times if not the poet-seers, the writer-intellectuals? You might recall how quickly writers like Ian McEwan and Martin Amis recovered from their vocation-denying shock (Amis: "after a couple of hours at their desks, on September 12 2001, all the writers on earth were reluctantly considering a change of occupation") and began turning out fiction in which 9/11 and its consequences were the abiding themes. The truth is that far from being a burden 9/11 was a gift to some writers. No longer was one required to turn to the past for grand themes of life and death, war and peace, love and hatred – now you just had to look out of your window at the sun glinting off the fuselage of a passing jet, describe what you saw, implant your feelings of fear and confusion and outrage into an appropriate fictional vessel (while you’re at it why not make him a neurosurgeon with a talent for squash?), and profundity is your reward.

9/11 didn’t explode the consciousness of our major writers, it imploded their egos and gave them a perpetually renewable “subject” and the license to explore it at the expense of whatever aesthetic they had hitherto developed. All of a sudden it was deemed important that literature – more specifically the "great minds" behind literature – be seen to be tackling the big issues of our time. The irony is that so many of the products of this attitude are a little too polite, a little too safe, a little too pre-9/11 to do justice to (fallacy alert) their authors’ intentions. A novel such as Ian McEwan’s Saturday, while in a limited sense successful as a political handgrenade, is about as safe as fiction gets, a comfortable stroll through the “issues of the day” written in professional prose and with a consolatory structure. The whole business of the impending war is distanced. Surely, however, one feature of post-9/11 life is the immediacy and pervasiveness of events. The attacks on New York were so shocking partly because we all saw it, as it happened – however silly it sounds in hindsight, at the time it felt like it was happening to all of us. In this sense, a trashy-but-entertaining movie like Cloverfield has more to "say" about the post-9/11 world than "serious fiction" like McEwan's. There is something contemptible about the way McEwan and others use their complacent fiction to present diagnoses of these events. It is arrogant art: here comes fiction with all the answers! Doesn’t it make you think? What it doesn’t do is confront and disturb because that would require moving beyond certain safe modes of thought and presentation.

I suppose it's unfair of me to begin this post with a quotation from The Lost Dog, a novel that for the most part avoids the kind of simplistic interplay and faux-profundity I have been describing here. Another Booker-nominated novel, Joseph O'Neill's Netherland, is however the acme of the post-9/11, thematic-jigsaw novel, and it's got a mopey, passive protagonist to boot. Netherland is sober and "realistic" and terribly sincere - a real "missive to the future" concerning our interesting times. I doubt I've read a less engaging novel all year, and I only wish I had my copy here so I could quote some of the deep thoughts O'Neill has his standard-issue white Western male protagonist think.

This post is less a consolidated essay than a collection of (possibly intemperate) "thoughts" about contemporary fiction and I'm not sure how coherent it is. I think what underlies everything I've said is a wish to read fiction that is honest. Not honest in the sense of realistic, but honest as in truthful to the work rather than to some facile "message". I'm tired of didacticism and "research". If I want argument and editorialising I can read the newspaper. If I want to know what happened when and to whom I can read history or biography. I read fiction for other reasons - aesthetic pleasure; intellectual diversion; a sense of possibility coupled to an implicit acknowledgment of limitation - things that are either beyond the ability of writers like Davies and O'Neill to provide, or else do not interest them. I suppose they have bigger things to think about.

Edit (14/08/08): I have altered and expanded upon the second sentence of the fourth-to-last paragraph in order to clarify my meaning. The sentence originally read: "The demand that literary fiction tell us things about the world in which we live was already long established when the towers collapsed." It now reads: "The preference for literary fiction that tells us things about the world in which we live was already long established when the towers collapsed; the impression I have is that post-9/11 some writers felt that this preference now conferred upon them an obligation. Who would make sense of our tragic times if not the poet-seers, the writer-intellectuals?"

The incoherent Olympics-related rant I had to have

I worked for a couple of months last year alongside an English guy - let's call him Clive - who had moved to Australia in early 2007 to get married. Clive was a bit of a lad and not entirely suited to the job but we got along all right, mainly due to a shared interest in quoting Sean Connery's lines from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (It's amazing the common ground you find or invent, and desperately latch onto, when you have to work with someone nine hours a day.) Clive was also a real know-all who, as is often the case, actually knew very little: nine out of every ten statements of "fact" consisted of hearsay, urban legend, or just plain bullshit. A little Clive went a long way, and while his claptrap was sometimes amusing at 9:30 a.m., it had usually ceased to be so by 5:30 p.m - especially when he started talking about Australia.

Now, according to Clive, before he moved to Australia he didn't even realise we had cities other than Sydney. He thought Australia was basically Sydney perched on the edge of an enormous empty continent with a few big rocks and some blackfellas outback for the tourists. Despite admitting to this breathtaking ignorance, Clive liked to think that his outsider status conferred upon him the ability to see Australia as it really is. This vision of Australia turned out to include more or less every negative stereotype and cliché about Australian life and character, all mixed up and regurgitated as "fact". I am a patriot of the least rabid stripe, but even I took umbrage at Clive's reductive misrepresentations: we're not all racist; we're not all drunks; we're not all lecherous Alvin Purples. (There was rich irony in the fact that Clive was a racist and a drunk, and would have given Alvin a run for his money in the lechery stakes.) The whole edifice of "national character" is childish and absurd, especially at a personal level. I have nothing in common with the bloke who lives across the road, but I've met Frenchmen and Egyptian women and Irish Setters with whom I have become firm friends. I also like and love various Australians - but their nationality isn't why I like or love them.

Anyway, Clive was a bit of a tool and I probably shouldn't have let him get to me. But the thing is, ignorant as Clive was, he hadn't come to his conclusions about Australia on his own. There had to be input from somewhere, and unfortunately that somewhere was Australia itself. Clive was simply responding to the face we show to the world. It's all beer and Warnie and "Where the bloody hell are ya?" Look at the behaviour of John Coates, IOC member and head of the AOC, who greeted the news of a British swimmer winning a gold medal with "It's not bad for a country that has no swimming pools and very little soap." Grow the fuck up, man. Not that this kind of thing is limited to "our" side: if the exchange of insults continues we can surely expect some jibes from a like-minded (no-minded) British official about "convicts" or whatever. It's not good-natured, it's juvenile; it's not gamesmanship, it's behaving like a dickhead; and it's certainly not patriotic, unless you're idea of patriotism is to represent your country to the world as a bunch of insecure, victory-obsessed oiks.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Aw well

Orwell's diary is being published as a blog. Today's entry epitomises the intelligence, political and cultural insight, and humane decency of this great writer:
Drizzly. Dense mist in evening. Yellow moon.
Timeless.

Update (12/8): Gosh, now Eric's blackberries are "beginning to redden". Reading this, it's almost like you're there.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Writer's lump

There must be a name for this: the lump that develops on your finger(s) as a result of holding pens or paintbrushes over a period of years. My family didn't own a computer until I was about fifteen so until that time I wrote exclusively - and messily - by hand. As a result I developed quite a pronounced and incredibly hard lump on the side of my right middle finger. I used to gnaw at it during boring high school classes, ie. all of them. When I gave people "the finger", the lump added a unique, personal touch to the gesture that I'm sure didn't go unappreciated. When I shook hands with people, the lump would communicate to me their darkest secrets and deepest fears thus allowing me to bend the person to my will. Sadly, a decade-plus of computer use has caused the lump to disappear, leaving only a slight toughness of skin to indicate that it was ever there. Like sand through the hourglass, etc.

If anybody knows what these lumps are called - other than "gross" - do share.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Listening tour

A year ago today I signed up to last.fm, an online music community that enables you to track the music you listen to and (in theory) connect with like-minded individuals. I haven't done much of the latter, nor have I paid a great deal of attention to the weekly charts, etc, that last.fm compiles of my listening but it's still interesting (kind of) to check in today and see that in the past twelve months I have listened to 10, 554 songs on my computer. (Obviously music listened to on my stereo isn't tracked.) No wonder my headphones are falling apart. The above chart (click to embiggen) shows my twenty most-listened-to artists for the year, while the full chart can be viewed here, although I'm not sure why anybody would want to do that.

Obviously this kind of thing is of extremely limited utility but to me it has the same kind of (admittedly fairly narcissistic) appeal as a reading log. I've been keeping one of those since 2005 and I find it quite interesting to see when I read what, especially when there is a cluster of similar books or books that obviously led from one to the other. I only wish I'd started keeping track years ago - I'm mildly envious of the likes of Art Garfunkel whose reading log extends back some thirty-eight years. Garfunkel's reading is also more consistently highbrow than mine, but then my stuff with Paul Simon is a lot better than his so it all balances out.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

More pronounced

I was watching Friends tonight and one of the characters said something about emus. Except the Friend in question didn't say "emus" they said "e-moos", like they were talking about some kind of new-fangled techno-bovine. I was expecting the laugh track to erupt with insincere hilarity - I mean, e-moos, really? - but the laughter remained canned until the next time Chandler said something sarcastic. Then: everybody whooped.

Is this for serious? Do Americans really say "e-moos"? W, as the kids say, tf?

Kids say creepiest things

One night my friend Erin went out to the cinema, leaving her husband Michael in charge of their young son. Michael duly fed and watered the boy, read him a story and tucked him into bed. As was the family's routine, Michael then kissed his son goodnight and moved to the door where he dimmed the lights so that the room was almost, but not quite, completely dark.

"Goodnight, Daniel," he said.

"Goodnight, Dad," said Daniel. "Goodnight, Mum."

"I told you, Dan, Mummy's not here. She's gone to see a movie."

"But she is here!" the boy insisted.

"No, silly," said Michael, moving back into the doorway. "Mummy's out for the night. You'll see her in the morning."

"Oh." Daniel bit his lip thoughtfully. "Daddy?"

"Yes?"

"If Mummy's not here, whose hand is that on your shoulder?"

If you can't say anything nice, you must be reading the Booker longlist

You'll chuckle knowingly when I tell you that less than a week into Booker '08 I've almost had enough. You knew, of course, that I wasn't going to read the longlist, not after my dramatic withdrawal from the 2006 longlist reading project. You knew that the only reason I read so much of the 2005 longlist was because of the novelty factor, and also because I was studying imagist poetry and American modernism and needed some low-impact reading to salve my brain of an evening. You knew I wouldn't have the determination, time, and masochistic tendencies required to wade neck-deep through the mire of the Booker Dozen, not when I could be reading, say, the Bible in Klingon, or the month-old Green Guide I found under my armchair. You knew all that, didn't you, you little know-it-all? I just have one question: why didn't you tell me?

The problem is that most of the books aren't worth reading, at least not cover to cover. I was discussing this with with Beth and she suggested that perhaps "observing the Booker longlist" was a better description of what we're doing than "reading the Booker longlist". So far I have observed four longlisted novels:

- The Clothes on Their Backs, Linda Grant. The blurb was enough to put me off this one: "...a wise and tender novel about the clothes we choose to wear, the personalities we dress ourselves in, and about how they define us all." I didn't bother reading any further.

- The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga. Read about twenty pages of this. It seemed ok.

- A Fraction of the Whole, Steve Toltz. By page 200 of this 700+ page novel I was exhausted and bored by the chatty, superficial style. This is the kind of book that attracts reviews containing words like "rollicking", "romp", "thumping", and "rip-roaring", but for all its vim and vigour it's actually quite dull and amateurish. I reckon it would make the perfect companion on a long-haul flight - long, not at all taxing yet not completely brainless, and marginally more interesting than clocking Super Mario 3 for the eighth time on the little back-of-the-seat entertainment unit.

- Netherland, Joseph O'Neill. The one longlistee I have read thoroughly. I've been working on an essay about this book and other post-9/11 fiction, however I am not sure I will complete it because frankly I find the whole sub-genre wearying. For now I'll simply say that Netherland is a good example of modern mainstream literary fiction, which is to say that it is well written, utterly conventional, and terribly "sincere" and "profound". It'll probably win.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Melbourne-baste

When I was given the opportunity to write some book reviews for the SMH last year it crossed my mind for about six seconds that I ought to write under a pseudonym. This was not because I had anything to hide but because the average law-abiding person gets so few chances to act under an assumed name that it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity. I was also conscious that whatever name those reviews were published under would probably be the name I would use for anything else I might have published. (Of course I already have a pseudonym of sorts in "Tim Sterne", but that's really more of a nickname or nom de blog - I am Tim, from Sterne - than a name I have deliberately adopted.) In the end I decided to use my boring, everyday name, the surname of which I find I have to keep spelling for people despite it being the name of our recently-deposed PM of eleven years. How soon we (bash our skulls against walls in an effort to) forget.

The other thing I had to decide on was my contributor note. Again there was a strong temptation to lie, eg. "T. Kazutoki Sterne is the author of Drescher, Goebbels, Braque: An Eternal Golden Shower. He lives in a canoe under a chocolate waterfall with a sentient cabbage named Joyce." Sobriety and the desire not to appear insane prevailed once more and I settled on the more prosaic and honest, yet vastly less intriguing, "Tim Howard is a Melbourne writer". What I like about this formulation is that it makes a claim for authority - hey, this Tim Howard guy's a writer, not just some schmuck! Or at least he's a schmuck who is also a writer! - while also providing the authors of the books I reviewed with my full name and rough geographical location just in case they felt like tracking me down and pointing out my own deficiencies, literary or otherwise. "Tim Howard is a Melbourne writer" may be boring, but it is also fair.

I also like its concreteness. "Melbourne writer" rather than that common variation "Melbourne-based writer". The latter sounds as if the writer in question merely "keeps a house" in Melbourne, turning up occasionally to dust the Van Goghs and water the geraniums before jetting off to Paris, London, New York. I suppose in some cases this might be true; in my case it would be so far from the truth as to constitute a category five fib, punishable by the malicious flicking (with a ruler) of the perp's ear lobes.

All this talk of contributor's notes reminds me of Michael Martone's book Michael Martone: Fictions, which consists entirely of contributor notes for "Michael Martone". I haven't read it but I would like to. On an unrelated note: my birthday is coming up soon and I have no qualms about accepting gifts.

*

Incidentally, does anybody else find it odd and disappointing that this month's Australian Literary Review contains only one fiction review and that's of a short story collection largely consisting of previously published - if often brilliant - material?

Tim C. McSterne is the author of this post. He is based in a darkened room somewhere in Melbourne.

Schlock Tactics

That'd be the head of Corey Worthington, "party boy", photoshopped onto the body of Jesus Christ, "saviour". The image is one of the entrants in this year's Blake Prize, which has a history of pissing off the usual people who get pissed off at such things with "provocative" and "controversial" (read: jejune and facile) works.

Dean Sewell, the creator of the Cory Christ piece, says: "Jesus was crucified to pay for the sins of man, and Corey was crucified by the media to pay for the sins of the MySpace generation." Yes, he really said that, apparently with a straight face. Reminds me of somebody I once knew...

Monday, August 04, 2008

For all your Hellboy needs

This is a shop in Box Hill. They sell mobile phones as well as large, red, demon superheroes.

"Heroes"

The Australian swimming team arrived in Beijing overnight, dressed as convicts. Which was appropriate, given the host nation's attitude towards freedom.

Mel and Koshie are hosting Sunrise from Beijing. This morning they presented a guest with a memento in the form of a Mao Zedong wristwatch, an act that pretty much sums up our media's reluctance to discuss China's recent history - let alone its present - in any but the most superficial of terms.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

If You Were A Horse

If you were a horse, my what a horse you would be! Hocks and fetlocks to take one's breath away, and cannon that just wouldn't quit. Your gaskin would be among the great wonders of the world, although I confess I am more of a pastern man myself. Out in the fields, I would stroke your flexor tendons, tickle your stifle, run my fingers lightly along your beautiful withers, slowly, one perfect vertebrae at a time. You would whinny and take some feed, and I would laugh merrily, my lips at your throat latch, my hand upon your poll. What a pair we would make, you and I, if you were a horse.

____

Almost forgot to do a repost this month. This was originally presented to an uncaring world on June 15, 2005.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Contenders

The 2008 Booker longlist:

Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger
Gaynor Arnold, Girl in a Blue Dress
Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture
John Berger, From A to X
Michelle de Kretser, The Lost Dog
Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant, The Clothes on Their Backs
Mohammed Hanif, A Case of Exploding Mangoes
Philip Hensher, The Northern Clemency
Joseph O'Neill, Netherland
Salman Rushdie, The Enchantress of Florence
Tom Rob Smith, Child 44
Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole

Not a bad list, although hardly thrilling. (But then this is the Booker...) I experienced a moment of shock when I saw the name Mohammed Hanif, until I remembered that the bloke our government locked up for no good reason was Mohammed Haneef. I know Damien Leith parlayed his Australian Idol win into a publishing deal, but terrorism suspect to Booker contender would be another thing altogether.

I happened to read Netherland last weekend so I should have a review up soon. It's been favourably compared to The Great Gatsby and Joseph O'Connor calls it "a great American novel" (although O'Neill is Irish, hence his Booker eligibility) but the reason I read it is because it was said to be that rare beast, a good novel about cricket. It turned out to be a reasonably good novel that had cricket in it. I wouldn't be surprised to see it win.

Other than that I'll be reading and reviewing what I can of the list. As is traditional with my Booker reading, the snark will be brought when warranted.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I now pronounce you incorrectly

I bought a book by Andre Dubus on the weekend and spent the train trip home wondering how to pronounce his name. "Dub-us"? "Do-boos"? Turns out it's "Duh-byoose" (thanks, Google). Armed with this information I can now wade into any conversations about Andre Dubus that might crop up at dinner parties or on the bus, confident that I'll at least get his name right. Now all I have to do is find somebody who wants to have a conversation about Andre Dubus.

Whilst searching for Dubus-pronunciation assistance I came across a post at The Millions which features a fairly comprehensive list of hard-to-pronounce literary names. The only revelatory pronunciation listed is that of Donald (and, presumably, Frederick) Barthelme, which is apparently "BAR-tuhl-mee" rather than the more prosaic (and sensible) "BAR-thelm". Other than that I appear to be pronouncing most of the listed writers' names correctly, or close enough. (I'm still not sure if it's "kut-see" or "curt-see".) I was also pleased to see that mispronunciations I once employed are apparently common. For years I said "woad-house" rather than "wood-house", "thuh-row" when it's actually "thuh-roo", and "bore-jez" when it is, of course, "bore-has". I still don't know how to pronounce "Goethe", but neither does anybody else. "Goat" seems to get the point across.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Fw: Please pass this on...

---- Original Message -----
From: ********
To: ***********
Sent: Wednesday, July 16, 2008 9:48 AM
Subject: Fw: Please pass this on, it has been confirmed by the Australian Police and the Australian Carpenters & Joiners Union

I got a call last night from an individual who identified himself as a Doors Plus Front Door Technician. He said that he was standing on my front doorstep and asked me to open the door so that he could check that it was functioning correctly. I was a little suspicious – there have recently been a number of attempted regicides and chicken bonings in our area – but I eventually decided to do as I was asked rather than make a fuss.

Big mistake! After checking that my front door’s hinges were operating according to Commonwealth standards (or so he claimed!) the so-called Front Door Technician asked if he could check the rest of my doors. I hesitated, but he said that he was entitled by Australian law to access my doors. I felt I had no choice and allowed him to go around my house checking the doors. After this I thought he would leave but he then demanded to be allowed to check my drawers. I let him rummage around in my drawers but after a while I started to feel uncomfortable and asked him to leave as I had to go and pick up my children from World Youth Day.

The man then said that he wanted to check any cash I had on me to ensure that it was functioning correctly. I was suspicious but he told me that owing to departmental downsizing Doors Plus was now subcontracted to evaluate Australia’s circulating currency at street level. I gave the man all the cash I had – several thousand dollars in mixed denominations – and was informed that it was faulty and would have to be taken in for repairs. I felt uncomfortable and suggested the man come back later when my husband would be home. The man said that he was on a tight schedule so would have to take the money now. He assured me that the money would be returned in good working order and made out a receipt which I later noticed was actually just a piece of paper torn out of a Coles catalogue.

By this time I was getting very suspicious but the man showed me his ID. I probably should have twigged at this point – the ID was a video library card in the name of Esther Jones – but I am a trusting person (too trusting!) and I wanted to do the right thing.

The man finally left having convinced me to give him a spare set of keys, my credit card, bank account and tax file details, my daughter’s piggy bank, my husband’s anal intruder, the plasma tv, and my collection of rare 19th century Scottish shipbuilding erotica – all to be "taken in for repairs", or so the man claimed! I was suspicious but he seemed like an honest, decent man. Before he left he told me that amongst his people – he was from Bendigo – the handjob was a sign of trust and he would be greatly relieved if I would show my trust by giving him one. I was suspicious but didn’t want to seem rude, so I gave him a brief and explosive tug by the front door, after which he left.

A few days later I called Doors Plus to enquire about when I might expect my money and other goods to be returned. They told me they had never heard of me and that it sounded like I had been the victim of a scam! I was shocked and called my local police station. The sergeant I spoke to told me that he had heard of similar scams originating from many gaols and prisons and said that I ought to pass my story along to others using email so as to reach the maximum number of people using a trusted medium that can never be exploited or used to propagate rumours and urban legends. So that is what I have done and I thank you for reading. If you are approached by any suspicious men claiming to be Front Door technicians, call the police!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"Do you have a nose?"

asks a classified ad in my local paper. If the answer is affirmative, you - yes, you, the one with the nose - can earn "$20 per hour as an 'Odour Sniffer'".

That they use the word "odour" rather than "scent" would seem to indicate that your $20 per hour will be hard-earned.

...and hold the placenta...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Shame

What is wrong with the English? Why are they so obsessed with not having finished certain books or not having started other books or not having taken books of appropriate cultural cachet to the beach? (Do they even have beaches?) There's one of these self-conscious whinges every second week in the Guardian, always couched in confessional tones - the shame of not starting/finishing Proust or whomever, the shame of taking the latest Ian Rankin to the beach instead of something translated from Norweigan with no paragraphs or proper nouns. Then, perversely, there's the shame of looking like a show-off if you opt for the allegedly pretentious tome over the bestseller. It's clearly impossible for the average Englisher to make a reading selection without being crippled by doubt.

Perhaps it's a consequence of growing up in egalitarian Australian - egalitarian to the extent that lack of interest in arts and literature knows no class boundaries - but I'm surprised anybody gives a frying frock what anybody else is or isn't reading. On the train the other day I sat between a businessman who was reading Robin Hobb and a Surrey Hills matron who was engrossed by The Bostonians, while opposite me a uni student was bending back the dusty spine of something horrible by Dennis Wheatley. (I had forgotten my book - Proust, obviously, in the original French - and was entertaining myself by trying to read bits of everybody else's.) These people weren't at all self-conscious, neither trying to display nor hide their reading matter. If a tyrannical cultural elite exists it failed to materialise on the 11:45 to Flinders St for a spot-check of commuters' books. ("High fantasy? 'Fraid that'll be a fifty dollar on-the-spot fine, sir. Madam, I'd like to see something from James's late period next time, if you don't mind. Sir, put the The Devil Rides Out down slowly and come with me. That's right, easy now. We'll get you all the help you need...")

The only person who regularly asks me what I'm reading is my dad, and he's never heard of any of the writers I like anyway and in any case is hardly seeking to make value judgments about my choice of literary diversion. I doubt if anybody else cares either. Or do they? Do I? Perhaps I'm just feigning nonchalance when really I'm a snob of the first water, peering down my nose at the philistines reading Wilbur Smith on the train, and then getting all worked up inside about my hypocritical snobbishness, remembering all those Dostoyevsky novels I haven't finished translating from the Russian, despite countless NYE resolutions to do so, so who am I to judge, but then, really, Wilbur Smith?

Dear Guardian. I have an idea for a blog post. I was on the train the other day when I was crippled by anxiety and shame...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Just so you know

I'm bored with the internet right now. Too much blather. Also, it's so cold in my study I can barely hear my inane thoughts over the chattering of my teeth.

My study. Or my teeth.

It's interesting, the too much blather thing. Sometimes the web provides me with an escape precisely because it is so heavy with random information, lies, opinions, gossip, images, in-fights, outrages, lists, star ratings, and so on. Other times, like now, all that stuff makes me sleepy and annoyed, and I want to escape from it and go and read Richard Yates by the heater and drink Coopers Pale Ale and later watch the Tour de France. So, goodnight.