Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lately I've been...

Susan Sontag's diary, Reborn.
Strangely disappointing, though perhaps just an anti-climax due to over-zealous reviews and sweaty anticipation on my part.
Of course, it's interesting to see her ambition intellectual nature form itself over the years, especially those precocious early years; and a few passages dwell on some questions of moral philosophy she developed further in her writing.
There are peeks inside the personal life of a famously private/famously public person. You can't beat that.
But the private declarations and musing about her sexuality, while familiar, are far from profound: reminiscent of, but not a shade on, Barbara Deming and others.
I suppose one just expects more from someone whose essays make you gasp with recognition or wonder - or more often groan silently with shame that the moral or political arguments she outlines didn't occur to you when they are so blindingly logical.
But that's the point, I suppose, of being the voice of a generation.
I also wonder why some entries (eg the addresses of agents or bookshops) are even published except as a vague marker of activity in the world, when so many notes are obviously omitted. The lists of movies Sontag has seen or books she wants to read speak both of her ferocious appetite for ideas and images and input.
"Nothing prevents me from being a writer except laziness."

But the most compelling passages are the 1957 'Notes from a childhood', a stream of consciousness mini-memoir; and those in which her forensic self-awareness leads her to dig painful at truths, particularly about her relationships.
It all begs the question why someone so sure of herself and so entrenched in queer life - and so honest about so many of her thoughts - was never open about her sexuality.
Perhaps the publication of more notebooks will explain.

Kate Grenville's The Lieutenant
In this book, Grenville crosses the gulf she created for herself in The Secret River, allowing for - in fact exploring - first contact between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the early days of settlement.
It's interesting, given the debates around Secret River: or rather, the debates around her statements about that book.
I think Grenville acknowledges the wishful thinking of so many white people, now and then (let's be honest) to be special, to understand Aboriginal life fully, to be free of any shame or guilt from past or present - our own or others'. Of course most of us stuff it up just like everyone else - we remain as complicit as every other whitefella while imagining we would be Rooke/Dawes rather than his trigger-happy First Fleet comrades. It's a fine old Australian literary tradition, Aboriginalism, and frankly I'm not quite sure where Grenville lands - whether she falls under its spell or is exploring the idea.
In both books there is confusion in the response to brutality. In Dawes/Rooke she has a fundamentally good man through which to work these dilemmas. He devotes his life after Sydney Cove to Abolition and slave welfare. Is he an exemplar? Is he too special - too good - to be a model for the rest of us? Do our own moral shortcomings find an escape in such good people?
We can rest assured when good people exist - when Wilberforce or Oxfam are on the case - knowing that somewhere in history - somewhere in the world - someone better than us (me) is actually doing something, responding as we would wish our best selves to do?
But she makes certain of one thing: "This is a novel," she writes in her Author's Note. "It should not be mistaken for history." She has even changed the names of people such as Arthur Phillip, which is perhaps taking things a little too far.
Nobody mistook The Secret River for history, surely: it was Grenville who muddied the waters with her own hand. But we shall let that debate rest, for now. What we can say though is that Grenville is brave enough to wade into that tide (stretching the metaphor about as far as it will go) of historical reflection and contemporary reaction. And good on her for that.

(Also been reading Peter Ackroyd's Fall of Troy and am now onto the Edna Walling biography.)

Slumdog Mllionaire

Like everyone else.
The Hours
Yes, I know I'm several years too late but it's one of those films everyone tells you to see, and whenever everybody tells me to do something I won't. So I'd never seen it and I wish I hadn't because now I am retrospectively furious Kidman won the Oscar for that dull performance when Meryl and Julianne Moore had both more screentime and twenty times the impact.
Cried from the moment he made his first speech. Love a good biopic. Couldn't quite believe I was watching a mainstream one about a gay icon. Harvey would be over the moon. Bless him.

My novel about La Maupin.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Writers for Wildlife

This weekend I'll be reading/speaking at a benefit for our furry and feathered friends who have survived the bushfires.
Writers for Wildlife
Abbotsford Convent
Sunday, March 22

Monday, March 09, 2009

Wrack and ruin

The roads are open. Not all of them, of course, as in Kinglake and other towns they are still sifting through the wreckage.
But I drove up to my place in the country on Saturday: the usual way, through Steels Creek and Yarra Glen, up through the Toolangi Forest, past Castella and through Glenburn to Yea and Yarck and my little half-acre which is still as I left it. But the world around it has changed beyond belief, beyond sadness.
I've driven through aftermath before, indeed I've driven through flaming bush. Every day for months I drove through the Royal National Park after the fire - blackened, then a glimmer of green.
But this...
There are parts that look like a normal bushfire has been through - bits of remnant foliage, some ground cover - maybe old trunks - for wildlife, a tree here and there untouched, the forest floor clears but substantial shrubs burned but still there. Horrifying but still a chance of survival for burrowing creatures and sturdy plants.
But there are parts of Toolangi that look like nothing I've ever seen. Bare charred trunks. And that's it.
It's as if there had never been any understorey at all. No skeletal saplings. No cover for anything.
Just trunks and a ghostly rain of grey leaves falling, then carpeting the ground.
Nothing can have survived it.
Whole populations of creatures must have been wiped out, just as whole townships have been reduced to the odd chimney and a tangle of iron.
So it must be a good thing that I'm reading/speaking at a benefit on March 22 at Abbotsford Convent - Writers for Wildlife - to support the recovery.
I'll post details here soon.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

At last

The rain has come. For the moment.
The sky is clear of smoke.
And I am on holidays.