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Sunday, 30 December 2007

Review: Mao's Last Dancer, Li Cunxin (2003)

Raised amid crushing poverty, Cunxin was, one day, tapped on the shoulder (as it were) when Teacher Song recommended him to a delegation of selectors seeking conscripts for a new dance school sponsored by the wife of Mao Zedong. It was 1973 and the Party was supreme, respected despite the aweful dearth of everything.

Cunxin travelled to Beijing to start training, which was tremendously painful. Diligent and conservative, he was recruited into the Party's youth league and, finally, chosen to participate in a troupe due to visit the United States.

Once there, he was struck by the freedoms available to those he met as well as the opulent lifestyle, which he did not believe was unexceptional. His yearning for fuller artistic expression is married to an aspiration to 'get out of the well'. This idiom is drawn from a story we read early in the book and that recurs over and over again.

In the story, a frog is trying to jump out of the well he is in, but cannot because the sides are too sheer and high.

Cunxin will marry an American, get divorced, defect, be ostracized by his country of birth, travel and dance, remarry (this time to an Australian; he lives in Melbourne), and be welcomed back to China.

It is an emotional story but the style is plain. It is so plain, in fact, that it appears artless. In places it is not very lively, but the tremendous release, when he finally gets what he wants, is invigorating.

One other theme is the link between creativity and freedom. The ease of access to the vice-president (George Bush snr) is effectively compared to the difficulty he had getting to talk to a local government functionary when his return to the United States for a second stint with the Houston Ballet, is threatened. We can feel Cunxin shaking with rage one moment, and shivering with gratitude the next.

Heartfelt and moving.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Delta Goodrem is 22 years old and this is her third album, and the first I've bought. The purchase was prompted by a friend's suggestion that I listen to Celine Dion. Goodrem is known to be similar. So in Armidale on my way up to Queensland, I bought both this and one of Dion's. Both are serious and talented singers who rely heavily on good diction (you can actually hear the lyrics) and rhyme (a sophisticated elegancy). But there the similarity ends.

Armidale is situated about half way between Sydney and the Sunshine Coast (my destination). I listened to Goodrem all the way up and all the way back. Non stop. I didn't get tired of it and I didn't start second-guessing the next track. I tried, in my head, to point out the positive songs (+) and the negative (-) ones, but the exercise was too much and I gave up. I would be able to do this in front of my screen, and that's a project for later.

In The Monthly there's an article on the album by "rock critic" Robert Foster, who helpfully points out that many different writers produced tunes and lyrics. He also says that the album "veers from the alarmingly banal to the inspired", which in my opinion is quite untrue. Sure, there are genres being exploited here but - who cares?

Goodrem's voice is superb in any register. She veers between soft, plaintive, erotic, sad, purposeful and kind. In any of these modes, she shines.

Each tune holds myriad complexities both in terms of words and music. None are false or tired. This may be due to the fact that each had a different composer (Goodrem herself pens several) and, as Foster points out, each competes to be the 'signature' tune that will sell as a single.

The single that hooked me is the extraordinary In This Life which has been featured on radio station Heart 103.2. But I think the new single, Believe Again, which opens the album, is superior.

Track 12 is a fascinating tune that uses an oriental flute and a plangent melody to suggest Goodrem is targeting the Japanese or Chinese market (or both).

Just stunning, the album (if listened to for an extended period of time) induces an extraordinary sense of well-being. The sonic effect seems to centre just in the middle of the forehead, behind the eyes.

My concentration during a seven-hour drive was always perfect and included a difficult final 120 kilometers on the Pacific Highway, where the speed limit goes up to 110km/hr. Even during this final phase, before the drudgery of Sydney suburban traffic, I felt totally aware and awake. My only stops were a toilet break and a sandwich. Apart from these brief pauses, the drive was continuous over the period (I left the hotel at 5.30am and arrived home at about 12.30pm).

Of course, driving the Aurion is not the same as driving the Echo, which has a capacity almost three times smaller. The new car behaved impeccably at all points, including the gruelling, three-lane final stint from Newcastle to Hornsby. Even up-hill at 105km/hr, you just squeeze the pedal and watch the tachometer lift by 5000 revs (from 2000 revs/min to 2500 revs/min), and you are already past the car you wish to overtake. The feeling is splendid.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Bee Perusco and Flower stood out tonight at the Tap Gallery Xmas party (6pm) reading (8pm) which ended on the pavement on the hoary slopes of Darlinghurst about half an hour ago.

And in addition SHE called close to 9pm to ask a question I'd already answered in an SMS some hours earlier.

Robert, whose satire is quite striking, is acquainted with physics and tells me that, as heat rises, the magnetic attraction between objects falls. If heat falls, magnetism rises likewise.

There was also something about the relationship between magnetism and electricity, but I'll need to resume the conversation on the next available occasion. They tell me there will be a reading in early February.

Why the break for the festive season? Who knows. It's a mystery.

Tap Gallery shows visual artists, too. I bought a tiny painting by Lilly Oen (half Chinese, half Dutch but born in Indonesia). It is a present and shows stylised flowers, ticked out in white. The size is about two inches square and it cost $125.

Tomorrow is the final work day of the year and I guess I'll have to contact mum to ask if she can book a room. I really think I'll go to Queensland via the New England Highway this time -- I've never seen Armidale.

They say it is quite nice.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

'Sonnets, in Plain English' are now sent to Wet Ink for consideration. It's the same title I used to submit four different sonnets to the Sydney Uni Anthology editors last week.

A week! What unnumbered events have taken place in that seemingly short span of time!

Submitted on 9 December were 'The Castaway (14 November)', 'For those Who Wrote the Book: QT & WH (17 November)', 'Reading Ugresic (18 November)', and 'The Parkville Hotel (9 December)'. All of them are what I call 'concept' sonnets. The last of these is extremely erotically-charged, in the wake of an event I attended at the Mitchell Library (but unfortunately didn't post on), 'Writing Sex'.

The event, which featured a panel of eminences, included Kate Holden. This author ties in with the poem furthermore as she was mentioned by a girl from whom I bought The Sex Mook (reviewed here) while in Melbourne for a conference.

It was during the conference, in the hotel room, that I had the experiences detailed in the poem. If it gets published you can read it then. If not, then when?

Maybe some day.

And submitted today are three more 'Sonnets, in Plain English': 'How many years have passed in your absence? (13 December)', 'Cracked polish on your fingernails gives me (16 December)', and 'In the lag twixt sighs wretched aforetime (16/17 December)'.

The dates of these, which are most definitely 'love' sonnets, are the only thing that differentiates one item from its neighbour.

For the Sydney Uni book, submission guidelines specify 12-point Courier (double-spaced). You must also include your name and the title of the work on each page. For Wet Ink you must use 12-point Times New Roman (double-spaced). But you must not include a name or title on pages containing the poems.

I always use 10-point Verdana to type a poem. It is certain that someone, somewhere, has written an elegant little piece on the joys of word processing. There may even be a poem about it for all I know. In my case, a WP is essential. Especially for a sonnet, where the ten-syllable line and the strict rhyme scheme demand the ability to rapidly alter words.

The process of writing a sonnet may involve a day. For example, the sonnet titled with 16/17 December was completed in a first draft on one day but, on the next, I radically altered it. In fact, I removed the entire first quatrain and added a new, third, quatrain.

It may also happen that the terminal word changes. This is not as common as a change to a word within a line, since establishing the terminus of a line allows you to make the one after the following line (a b a b, c d c d, e f e f, g g is the rhyme scheme). In a sense the fact of having written a quatrain reduces the alternatives significantly.

But I do think that rhyme possesses a value not otherwise present in poetry. Rap, for example, describes a state of mind characterised by aspiration. It exploits the elegancy commonly attributed to rhyme, in order to presuppose its author a member of an elite.

Ad-hoc rhyming is disturbingly common in otherwise free-verse poetry. Occasionally a poet known for his or her free style (which means every poet currently producing with the exception of me) will insert an ad-hoc rhyme, in his or her striving for the elegance rhyme bestows. Here's the few verses in a poem ('Diana' in 1994's The Monkey's Mask) by Dorothy Porter:

The door reads
Dr Diana Maitland

I knock twice

she's thirtysomething
maybe forty

her hair honey-blonde
streaks

falls in her eyes
she pushes it back

with a fidgety
nail-bitten hand

she's got eyes
that flirt or fight

she's gritty
she's bright

oh christ help me
she's a bit of alright!

The rhymed elements are in bold text. Note that this is a 'love' poem: where the hard-bitten, dyke private investigator meets the elite doctor and falls in love. They soon ("my hands and heart/aching/for blossom/for wild wild risk" in 'Spring', and "this time/will we just talk?" in 'Driving to her place') get around to turning it on ("her perfume/her eyes/he hot tip/of her tongue" in 'First move').

Other than that, there are no rhymes (I'm at page 72 at the mo). Which proves that, for Porter, rhyme means something different, something extra. This is, after all, the point in the story (there are two major plotlines: the love story and the search for a girl, then the killer of the girl, aged nineteen) where Lizzie first meets Diana.

Here's my own production, at the same point in the cycle (cycle? Is love a cycle?):

13 December 2007

How many years have passed in your absence?
Eternity obeys your pounding heart.
The sudden changes of your countenance
Ratify this moment, in which I start

Like the wild jerboa, lithe kangaroo
Of another desert, millennial
Denizen with an equal urge to woo
And win, and wean off desire. Finical,

Admiring yourself (seemly reticence!),
In me you find much to admire: curtains
Kept closed must strengthen desire; absence
A breeze that keeps kissing these rock-strewn plains.

You reached inside and broke off a corner
Of your heart, and placed it in my palm, girl.

Note: the image at the top of the post is a clip from an original Photoshop production that uses material from the Internet and photos taken while watching TV.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Germaine Greer on Austen was too tempting, so when the notice appeared on the Sarsaparilla blog, I put my details into their system immediately. Professor Greer's lecture, 'Jane Austen and the Getting of Wisdom', drew me not only to Melbourne (by car) but down Swanston Street among the crowds of home-bound workers, to the RMIT Capitol Theatre.

It's an original structure, designed by Walter Burley Griffin. An ideal setting for an original mind. I did not expect her to focus on Mansfield Park, which has always been my favourite Austen novel. But her ideas were not so very divergent from mine, especially when she compared Fanny to Mary Wollstonecroft, pointing to the scene where Fanny and Edmund are outside the drawing room looking up at the stars.

Percy Shelley was a "totally liberated personality" and Greer even agreed with me (after I took the mic to ask a question) that the study of 18th-century English poetry is a sadly neglected arena for the docentary profession. "I agree completely," she said when I suggested that such writers as Richardson, Cowper and Crabbe could profitably be studied in schools. Cowper, I said as I stood amid the rows of (mostly) secondary-school teachers listening rapt, with me, to the eminent academic, was the only 18th-century English poet Nabokov praised when preparing the notes for his 'authentic' translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin.

The next two days were wonderful and I met some very interesting people. I listened to a number of other smart women (few men participate in Austen scholarship, it seems, though her first boosters, in the 1920s, were mainly men). Standouts for me were Jocelyn Harris, Sarah Ailwood, Mary Spongberg and Penny Gay.

Most interesting was Harish Trivedi, a professor at the University of New Delhi. A man of uncommon parts and an extraordinary grasp of the source material, Harish infuriated me to such an extent that I had to leave the lecture hall, my pulse racing at over 120 beats per minute. The lies, half-truths and baseless accusations he levelled at Western societies was not in agreement with the astute mind I had already encountered outside another lecture theatre.

We became sort of friends, however, as I drove Harish to the terminal dinner and back to his lodgings at Ormond College, Melbourne University. My final recommendation to him was to read Other Colours, the recent collection of non-fiction by Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk manages to do what most subaltern scholars and writers do not: explain the significance of Western culture to an Easterner. My source at La Trobe (which sponsored the event) tells me Harish is reading the book.

The conference's tagline ('"I dearly love a laugh": Jane Austen and comedy') was not always the point of reference for speakers. More often than not these women tried to focus on the way that Austen surpassed any novelist prior to her era (and most since).

What I'd like to see, if I had my druthers, is a good, long peek at Samuel Johnson's prose. In my book, the good doctor was a major influence on the young Jane. In fact, by my reckoning, few before him and few since have equalled the sinuous, lithe and elegant movement of his short prose pieces.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Michael Specter started working for The Washington Post in 1985 and became a staff writer with The New Yorker (cover is of the 3 December 2007 issue) in 1998. In between he worked in Europe for The New York Times.

'Darwin's Surprise' in this issue is about endogenous retroviruses which, Specter tells us, "infect the DNA of a species [and] become part of that species". Unlike regular viruses, retroviruses reverse the 'flow' of genetic code from DNA to RNA:

A retrovirus stores its genetic information in a single-stranded molecule of RNA, instead of the more common double-stranded DNA. When it infects a cell, the virus deploys a special enzyme, called reverse transcriptase, that enables it to copy itself and then paste its own genes into the new cell's DNA.

In this way, 'endogenous' retroviruses "alter our genetic structure" and it is a scientific fact that disabled retroviruses "make up eight per cent of the human genome".

Specter shows that the success of a species in one generation may cause it to be susceptible to a new retrovirus in a later age. In fact, the propeller-heads have shown this to be true. Our current problem with HIV is, they say, the result of our success in combatting another virus, called PtERV, four million years ago. Gorillas and chimps, who died in large numbers at that time due to this virus, are now immune to HIV.

But he goes further, noting, with gravitas conveyed by a researcher at the Institut Gustave Roussy, near Paris, Thierry Heidmann, that "without endogenous retroviruses mammals might never have developed a placenta, which protects the fetus and gives it time to mature";

That led to live birth, one of the hallmarks of our evolutionary success over birds, reptiles, and fish. Eggs cannot eliminate waste or draw the maternal nutrients required to develop the large brains that have made ammals so versatile.

Heidmann says that retroviruses, being "two things at once: genes and viruses", "helped make us who we are today just as surely as other genes did." It is a fascinating story.

Also in this issue is a piece, also long (in traditional New Yorker style), by Geraldine Brooks. It chronicles the entwined destinies of two families of Serbs, one Muslim and one Jewish.

It is a story of redemption and really is worth reading, although the odd-sounding names make it hard to follow at times. In it, a kindness given by a man in one generation, is returned in the next by a woman, and finally rewarded by the entire state of Isreal in the next. It ends in the mid-nineties when the war in that part of Europe was sizzling across our TV screens.

It is a war, as this story shows, for which the statute of limitations, in terms of the stories it may produce, is nowhere near ended. For this reason, we should study such authors as Dubravka Ugresic, whose experiences in Croatia during and after the period of turmoil, make good reading.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Doris Lessing on the Internet: it has "created a world where people know nothing", writes Asher Moses in The Sydney Morning Herald. But Moses leaps to the defence of the Net:

  • "Lessing ... barely acknowledges the internet's positive side"
  • "She said little about the opportunity for internet users to freely browse reams of information they may otherwise not have the time or know-how to seek out"
  • "She also ignored the fact that blogging has given a voice to millions who would otherwise be writing little or nothing at all"

Lessing says the Net has "seduced a whole generation into its inanities" and in a way she's right, but the real issue is not what we see on the Net. It is, rather, that the Net allows us to see what was previously obscure: most people are happily ignorant.

Moses also quotes Andrew Keen, a Net pundit whose ideas have appeared before in the newspaper. A book, The Cult of the Amateur, that purports to lament the poverty of most that is available online, actually points to a solution. Rather than fewer dilettantes, we need more.

In fact, a reason for the poverty of most blog posts and Web sites is not that they are produced by amateurs. The issue may be that those who actually possess the most knowledge are put off by the tribalism and savagery of much commentary. Especially in blog comments, these two aspects of online behaviour are to be regretted.

Putting forward an idea that diverges from the orthodox position of any blog (every blog has its own ideological banner, be it liberal, conservative, religious right, or anarchist), is sure to attract flames. And because people say online what they would hesitate to say face-to-face, the burden is on the dissenter to either expect flames or to go elsewhere.

Which may simply mean they refrain from commenting on blogs, which is a result that cannot be good for the quality of online content.

There is no evidence that, for example, book sales are suffering due to the advent of the Internet. The reverse is likely true.

But the fact remains that a strong online brand is essential if you want to attract numerous visitors to your site. This is why, despite early fears that the Net would decimate their readership, newspapers such as the one Moses writes for, are experiencing a significant rise in the number of hits per month.

In short, the communal experience most surfers treasure may end up being the downfall of many sites, as their readers realise that, in the end, the quality of the content is what matters. The challenge for established brands is to ensure that their content meets the expectations of their target demographic.

I expect fragmentation to continue. This will mean that blogs will become more specialised. This has certainly happened in the magazine world. Once upon a time, magazines were eclectic. They were also, at the same time, largely the province of a small elite. This is now no longer the case.

Whether there is room for generalist blogs is a matter of speculation. Some are already there, such as 3 Quarks Daily. This blog aggregates items from numerous sources, mainly online newspapers and magazines.

In the realm of lit blogs, a few maintain the frequency of posting required to sustain themselves. Most people have half-a-dozen or so favourite sites they visit daily.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Review: Hunting and Gathering, dir. Claude Berri

I fully prefer the French title (Ensemble C'est Tout) because it sums up the film more precisely. And, when it comes to French comedy, la precision c'est tout! Especially with the uber-gamine Audrey Tatou (pic), playing Camille, a girl who, the blurb tells us, "is doing her best to disappear".

The echoes of ancien regime France are apparent but not over-done. This is not Jane Austen, nor is it Dickens but, rather, the kind of comedy we are accustomed to from the French. It is also wonderfully charming, tender, funny (chuckle-friendly), and sexy. On this last point, however, I would like to register my protest over the type of kiss we're used to American films delivering. I'm tired of the romance being destroyed by these twisting, energetic, full-on smooches. I want something more real (this is not the way people kiss, conard!).

A resume of the plot is out of the question, although having something like this online might be of use. I just don't have the patience. But I want to testify here that I am completely in love with Phillibert (the aristocrat) because he is generous, kind, unprepossessing, chivalrous, intelligent, charming, and quite unimaginably perfect.

If only the ancien regime had behaved like him, there would never have been a revolution (conard!).

However, I will say that the treatment of Paulette is ravishingly beautiful. If this is the way the French think the world should be, then I want to live there, at least for a while (just to see if the image is lived up to by the reality; I suspect it is not). Paulette has a stroke and the blokey Franck, her grandson, takes Mondays off to look after her.

Franck lives in Phillibert's apartment and Phillibert rescues Camille from certain pneumonia when he carries her down the stairs from her freezing garret into his spacious apartment. Camille alters the boys' reality, not only because she is an artist, but because she is practical and honest.

They bring Paulette to the apartment to live while she recuperates, and Camille stays at home from her cleaning job to look after her. When she is better, they return her to her house and garden, her cats and dog, and her chickens.

Camille also falls for Franck and requests that he make love to her. But she is not prepared for a commitment. It is Franck who wants to be her boyfriend, not the other way round.

Being a comedy, everything turns out well in the end, but it is the journey and its delights that will ensure this film stays with its viewers for some time to come.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Review: Hitman, Xavier Gens (2007)

Starring Timothy Olyphant as a suitably robotic 'killing unit' (complete with barcode tattoo on the back of his head) and with model-cum-actor Olga Kurilenko who appears always dressed in little more than the idea of a dress, and with a screenplay by Skip Woods based on a video game, this is a real eye-opener.

The genre's primary point of reference is The Bourne Identity but the idea of a secretive organisation and a hitman trained to do one thing is as old as the James Bond franchise. The following blurb from the Web site does not appear in the film:

"Bred from the world's deadliest criminals, raised by an exiled brotherhood of the church. His purpose: to rid the world of the evil that infects it. Most believe his very existence is a sin, but others know he is a necessary evil."

We get a representative line-up of 'typical' Russian characters direct from the filmmaker's tour guide. From the fat police officer intent on obstructing Interpol to the glum secret-service agent, from the plausible sociopath who is the elected president to his brother, an arms dealer who surrounds himself with nubile women and opulence.

Interpol is represented by Dougray Scott and his sidekick Michael Offei. But their involvement in the hitman's rampage is not clear. In fact, the plot is as thin and skimpy as one of Olga's head-turning garments.

This criticism misses the point, however. The film is merely a sequence of highly-choreographed scenes where the following elements are of most importance:

  • Virile brandishing of automatic handguns
  • High-tech gadgets designed to kill
  • Ferocious dominance of the woman in all cases by the active male
  • Gritty street scenes in a decayed city (St Petersburg)
  • Opulence of past eras compared to decadence and greed of the present
  • Use of fists, feet, swords and guns to eliminate adversaries

The deployment of these elements is handled capably, however. All credit to the filmmakers. There are many original camera angles and the use of dark tones to create a Romantic gloom is satisfying, especially when it serves to underscore the protagonist's solitary nature. In fact, Number 47 is something of a Frankenstein's monster.

In contrast, Kurilenko is quite happy to appear without a top and it is true that she has nice breasts. Her physical availability and lissome grace are in stark contrast to her ready use of four-letter words as well as Olyphant's mechanistic personality. He seems totally uninterested in her as a sexual entity. It is clear that we see here elements imported from the massive, and growing, online porn industry.

One last criticism, though. The soundtrack on the Web site cannot be turned off. A control is located at the bottom of the screen, but when you click it to turn it off, it merely restarts the music from scratch.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Review: Journeys: Modern Australian Short Stories, Barry Oakley ed., 2007

I included notice of David Malouf's piece in the previous post, but it is not the best here. The title is furthermore confusing as at least two items in the book are non-fiction. One is Robert Adamson's 'On the trail of Ptilorus magnificus', which chronicles early transgressions in Neutral Bay and nearby suburbs, where the poet grew up.

The other is Helen Garner's 'At the Morgue', which gives a glimpse into the world of the mortuary, in this case the one in Melbourne, "half a mile from the leafiest stretch of St Kilda Road, in there behind the National Gallery and the Ballet School and the Arts centre with its silly spire and its theatres and orchestras and choirs".

Garner is always good value and in this case the rule is true. Unexpectedly good is Margo Lanagan's 'Rite of Spring', where a boy (or girl, it's not clear) is given a task that includes reciting names while sitting atop a windswept peak and wrapped in a heavy coat. In the story the dominant figure is the mother, who seems to scold frequently but whose good offices are eagerly sought by the child.

Lanagan seems to be a routinely-published author and after having read this little gem, I shall certainly seek out other work.

In the case of Steve J. Spears' 'What Do I 'Do' with Cancer' it is not clear whether we are in the realm of fiction or non-fiction. Likewise with Ken Haley's excellent 'September 11, 2001'.

In this piece, a wheelchair-bound traveller in the region bounded by the Black Sea and the Aral, meets various characters and forms impressions of very foreign cultures. Being there, at that particular point in time, causes a frisson of remembrance in the reader, but its effect is neither long-lasting nor deep. For Day 157 (4 October): Vanadzor to Dilijan, we get this:

The Saruhanyans may live a long way from the big smoke but they are as clued up as anyone in New York or Sydney. The TV is tuned into Moscow these nights and they glance at it sidelong from the dinner table, as if Frankenstein's monster had taken up residence in the living room. Once their thoughts are translated, I know they await the outbreak of hostilities in Afghanistan any day now. They are quiet Christians, and the invasion of their land by Muslim-Arabs and later Persians - is unforgettable in folk memory.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Review: The Sex Mook: What Is Our Sex?, edited by Julian Fleetwood (2007), Vignette Press, East Melbourne

Fleetwood's introduction contends that "this book is rough" and that it was done to produce "honesty and openness" but the most satisfying element is that this is a manifesto. It is a very polite one, but a manifesto nevertheless. It's been a while since I read such a thing.

Good are 'Do You Love Me?' by Louise Ellis Carter, which describes the satisfactions of role-play, 'Our Sex Is Not For Sale' by Emily Maguire, a run-down of the highly manufactured character of most sex in the media today, and 'Nympho' by Nithya Sambasivam, a poem about finding your legs in a Western society when you're told to want something else.

The good thing about the collection qua collection is the shortness of the pieces. Most do not go over three pages, including Leticia Supple's 'Private Time', which describes what a young woman gets up to when she locks her bedroom door. Not all of the collection is this good, and much is forgettable. But it's a start.

It's also welcome from the point of view of equity. There are pieces that are more forthrightly about the politics of sex, such as Peter van der Merwe's 'On Not Being Gay', and 'Herpes Male Seeks Herpes Female...' by Anna Krien.

I kept waiting for someone to allude to the father of sex writing (Henry Miller) but he seems to belong to a white, male orthodoxy that is no longer in style. A recent movie by some French people of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley reminds us that some things still need to be said.

One of which is that conflict can be liberating. In a piece in today's The Sydney Morning Herald, Cate Blanchett reminds us that "You don't want to be surrounded by yeah-sayers" and she's backed up by David Malouf.

His story in a nice collection I'm currently reading (Journeys: Modern Australian Short Stories, Five Mile Press, 2007) 'Elsewhere', includes a classic line about the inner-city elites among whom Andy Mayo (from Lismore) finds himself when his sister-in-law dies (probably from AIDS, though it's never specified).

After the funeral, Andy and Harry (Debbie's father) drive to a house somewhere in the suburbs for the wake. There are a lot of people who totally ignore Andy and the bereft father. Andy feels "He was in the middle of it" but:

No one paid any attention to him, though they weren't hostile. They just went on arguing.

Politics. Though it wasn't really an argument either, since they all agreed.

This is superb, although without doubt the best items in the book belong to Robert Adamson (actually a section from a memoir, Inside Out: An Autobiography) and the inimitable Cate Kennedy, whose 'Dark Roots' (about a woman of 39 with a lover aged 26) starts on page 79.

Also of note is a story by the erstwhile High Court judge Ian Callinan, 'The Romance of Steam', which chronicles a train journey from Sydney to Brisbane and hunger among the three hundred women in uniform on board, during WWII.

I picked up this collection in Wagga Wagga, a town of some 60 thousand souls where it was still 31 degrees Celcius at 4pm and 29 degrees at 5pm. The sex book was bought at Federation Square, central Melbourne. The two young women behind the table brought my attention to the nicely gift-wrapped books it held. I just picked up a naked copy from the pile and paid.

I had immediately beforehand bought two Russian modernist novels, The Silver Dove by Andre Bely and The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov. This table was run by Three Bears Books and I plan to contact them with the email address provided to get some Russian Symbolist poetry. The kind Nabokov always talks about.