Gerald Murnane – Another World in This One

Gerald Murnane: Another World in This OneMy Paris Review piece on the now-infamous 2018 Gerald Murnane conference in Goroke, Victoria will be published as part of Gerald Murnane: Another World in This One, papers from and inspired by the conference.

The collection is edited by Professor Anthony Uhlmann of Western Sydney University; it was a thrill to be asked by Anthony to have the piece not only included but to be used as the introduction for the book. Also great to be sharing pages with some of the best writers and critics in the country, including Murnane himself.

Gerald Murnane: Another World in This One is published by Sydney University Press on 02 March 2020. Buy the book here.

On Anne Serre’s The Fool

The Fool by Anne SerreI had the serious pleasure of reviewing The Fool and Other Moral Tales by Anne Serre for Music & Literature. Picked up The Fool on a whim (cover got me, and the fact it was published by New Directions), thoroughly enjoyed what Serre was up to, and immediately ordered The Governesses. Wanted more, but this is all there is in English translation, so thought the next best way to spend more time with her writing was to review it. Speaking of which, I’ve got something else in the pocket, looking for a home for that now.

The first review I’ve written (or completed, at least) in over a year, knew I was rusty so put the work in on this one – hope it shows. Big thanks to Jeffrey and Taylor at M&L for giving it a home – it’s a pleasure to be published by them again.

And do pick up The Fool.

On ‘Scenes from Gerald Murnane’s Golf Club’

Scenes from Gerald Murnane’s Golf ClubI wrote a piece for the Paris Review called Scenes from Gerald Murnane’s Golf Club – on the Murnane symposium last December, organised by Western Sydney University. Symposiums aren’t typical PR fodder, but this one was at a tiny golf club in Murnane’s country home-town, and was both a celebration of the writer and, quite possibly, a goodbye of sorts. In case it’s not clear in the piece, it was a surreal and fun day which was only one part of an amazing trip that included hanging out at the pub in Natimuk with writers I’ve long admired, then spending the next morning with Alexis Wright.

If you’re planning a bush symposium, sign me up.

With thanks to Nick from Giramondo, Andre for the photo and Nadja for humouring me.

Update (I)

Breaking from the usual self-indulgent tomfoolery to write an equally self-indulgent personal update – for no other reason than to keep writing. The writing is coming easy. The reading is going terribly but I’m writing a lot. Apart from a few lit journals (which seem conducive to my condition), I have returned to Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, my favourite book by David Foster Wallace. It’s the only thing I’ve been able to read with any sort of ease of late and I’m not sure where to go next; money for books is low, so revisiting things also serves a practical purpose.

But the writing. I’ve written a handful of blog posts, a few short things, a critical thing. I’ve got some ideas for some kids books that, if nothing else, amuse me. I’m putting some work out there and relegating other work to the back corner of the portable hard drive I keep in my desk’s bottom drawer. I’m writing a novel. I’m always writing a novel, but this time it’s almost done. It sort of is done, but the last edit became a re-write and I did some things in the second half that will conflict with things done in the first, and so on, and so I need to go through it a few more times before I do whatever it is you do with these things. Sometimes I think it’s good, sometimes I think it’s bad. Some of it has been a lot of fun to write, the ugly parts, the parts about an element of Australian culture that I fear is endangered, especially. I hope it gets somewhere just so I can show off the ugly parts.

I also have a novella written. Once the novel is in a state I’m happy with I want to go back to the novella and see what exactly I did there. Ideas for it rose and converged and I wrote it in a frenzy at the end of last year and the result was unlike anything I’ve written before. I’ve got a page in Evernote detailing all the references/influences in the novella which in itself is a weird document. I thought it was good – we’ll see about that.

As for definites, I’ve got a couple of short stories being published later in the year, both of which I’m very excited about.

On the defaced

On a recent trip to Turkey I (inevitably) spent a lot of time visiting historical sites around the country and noticed (inevitably) that a lot of the art, Byzantine cave paintings and classical sculptures, had been defaced – literally. Heads were removed and if not heads then faces and if not faces then eyes. Once-proud statues of gods and statesmen (are they the same thing?) with their chests puffed and the folds of their robes clutched in their arms now stand around museums and ancient cities like lost ghosts.

Some of the Byzantine art on the roofs of the caves in Cappadocia were suspiciously well preserved, as if somebody had run a water-colour over the old painting to touch it up before the day’s tour started. But even more striking were the lack of eyes. Angels and saints were remarkably vibrant but their eyes were white. I tried to tell if the eyes had faded or been scratched out or painted over.

At the ruins of Hierapolis, a seated Egyptian’s head has been removed. Only his folded arms and clothes covering his legs have been left to him. The faces of Medusa on various sarcophagi have been worn down. Even the penguin-esque statue of Horus at the site had its beak chipped off.

Of course, with so many faces removed, a game to find a sculpture with a face or cave painting with eyes begins. 

*

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between something that’s old and something that’s ancient. 

*

The kind of man who drinks with his back to the ocean.

On the Explorer

Central Station

After Campbelltown farm animals begin to appear in the fields, faces down in the grass.

Everyone knows each other; or knows someone who knows each other. Everyone is a recovering alcoholic. Everyone is dead or dying.

A woman hasn’t paid the difference. The conductor tells her not to worry about it – because it’s Christmas, he says. “Oh, thang-kyou,” she says.

A can of soft drink is cracked. There is a pause, and then it is opened, as if he didn’t want to disturb.

Everyone is dead or dying or died years ago.

New home new home old home boarded and bombed with graffiti. Long houses which in my mind when I see them I attach to the word homestead.

In a field of gumtrees there is a tree house, dark and stuck between two trees like it is an organic extension of them, with a blue port-a-loo outside. (I, at first, instead of writing tree house, wrote true house.)

Field

Dirty cloud and dirty earth and cows cluster on a hilltop like they wait for something other than dusk. (I’ll try to get a shot of a kangaroo for you.)

(The train whistles; the faster we go the more desperate the whistling. I don’t feel like writing, or reading, so I do this.)

Right on time: two grey shadows in the fields like the upturned trunks of trees: kangaroos.

The names of the stops mean nothing for me. I do not know them and so they are only names. For a long time, while we were still in Sydney, the rail line channels through industrial estates, factories and warehouses, or the leftovers of industry. I don’t even know this part of town – I look for signs or buildings or the shape of places to know where we are. These places are empty. I don’t know my city.

I think about the conductor. I imagine him folding his work shirt in a dim motel room, alone, turning on the radio that is built into the bedside table. Or is he going home? Does he have someone to fold his shirt?

Burnt Trees

“It’s out of my hands.”

We pass a muddy clay lake and burnt out trees that a fire has whipped bare.

“It’s out of my handsisn’t it?”

A caravan park where the caravans have been turned into permanent homes, television aerials on rooftops, the caravans stripped of their ability to transport; black forest and then blackened fences and then spaces where homes used to be.

A footy lost over the fence.

One corrugated shed then the remnants of a shed, as if it’s been blown up or blown away.

The buffet has closed but there is hot food left which they don’t want to waste and so everything is half price: plain meat pies are 1.90; pasties are 1.70; sausage rolls are 1.80. To prevent wastage.

“All right love ya. … Love you. … Love ya bye.”

Night

On being a question away

[A response to Brad Frederiksen]

I wrote, Brad, something of an answer to your question how cool would it be if you clicked on an image and it flipped to reveal the history behind it?, which I know wasn’t exactly directed at me, or anybody else really, something further about the photos that have hung on the walls of my grandmother’s house and continue to hang there, now, as I write this. One of the photos is a portrait of my grandmother’s grandparents on their wedding day. The man (I don’t know his name) is dressed in a stiff black tuxedo and is seated while his new wife (I don’t know her name) stands in a frilled, long-sleeve dress beside him. They wear serious expressions and gaze at something to the side of the camera’s lens. The man’s tuxedo is a harsh, funereal black dark as his moustache, dark as his hair. Their cheeks are rosy. I have memories of the flowers in the photograph – in his lapel, on the table to his side, incorporated, maybe, into her outfit – being coloured at the tips, but this may be incorrect. Though they are a part of my family and this photo has always been in my life and their history and my connection to their history is just a question away, I have no connection with them. The photo is hand-coloured and the colour has faded so that what is left makes them, or him at least, and I hate to say it, look like a ventriloquist’s dummy. The setting is indoor and staged, made neutral, and so they don’t look like they are even in Australia. Anyway, this isn’t what I was going to write but I’m OK with that because what I was going to write about I decided, for reasons of decency, maybe, or because this isn’t the forum, not to write about anyway.