No 244 - September 2002

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'September 11: A Symposium': Joy Hooton on Drusilla Modjeska's Timepieces; Craig Sherborne reviews Cheryl Kernot's and Franca Arena's memoirs; John Martinkus reviews Deliverance; David McCooey reviews new poetry


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    Exit Left. "See How It Runs: Nimrod and the New Wave", by Julian Meyrick. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) Thomson, Helen
    It is snatching some kind of victory out of defeat to write a PhD thesis about the rise and fall of a theatre company, and Julian Meyrick has successfully transformed thesis into book. This has been achieved mainly through very good writing; lively, intelligent and uncluttered by jargon. The formal paraphernalia of the thesis — notes, appendices, statistics, bibliography and index — are not only useful in themselves, but crucial evidence for the argument. "See How It Runs" provides a cool analysis of a complex process of entropy. Nevertheless, while it is the scholarly and frequently self-reflexive methodology that constrains, authorial opinion has a welcome presence in the form of refreshingly decided perspectives and vivid descriptive powers.
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    Post-Human Futures. "Transcension", by Damien Broderick and "Schild's Ladder", by Greg Egan. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) Blackford, Russell
    Since 1990 Australian science fiction (SF) has undergone an extraordinary renaissance. These new books by Broderick and Egan, "Transcension" and "Schild’s Ladder", are at the genre’s cutting edge. Both writers attempt to imagine worlds that have undergone truly radical change, as a result of which humanity itself has been superseded or deeply altered. Such post-human scenarios are now debated intensely within the genre, as its practitioners reflect upon the contemporary technological trajectory. Once the possibilities for powerful new technologies, such as nanotechnology and artificial intelligence (AI), become clearer, the debate will increasingly spill over into the intellectual mainstream, a process already underway. Today’s serious SF themes are tomorrow’s mainstream social and political issues.
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    Salty Pleasures. "Attempts at Being", by Alison Croggon and "The Long Moment", by Kate Fagan and "Screens Jets Heaven: New and Selected Poems", by Jill Jones and "Versary", by Kate Lilley. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) McCooey, David
    Aesthetic pleasure is immediately apparent in these new works from Salt, the Anglo-Australian publisher that has developed an exciting international poetry list ranging from Ron Silliman to Dennis Haskell. The pleasure of reading this list is partly bibliographic. Salt publishes some of the bestlooking (and most reasonably priced) poetry books in the country. The stock is excellent and the text well designed. At a time when the chances of getting a book of poetry published is as slim as a supermodel, it must be doubly pleasing to be published by a company like Salt. These new works continue Salt’s stylish, serious approach to poetry.
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    Young Adrian's Murky Fears. "Of a Boy", by Sonya Hartnett. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) Middleton, Kate
    Sonya Hartnett’s "Of a Boy", written for the adult market after her many successful young adult novels, begins with a kidnapping, which provides a counterpoint to the central story of nine-year-old Adrian. Hartnett’s style is well-suited to adult fiction, and "Of a Boy" is a rewarding novel. Full of the complexities of its characters’ perceptions and Adrian’s immobilising fears, it is a deeply moving story.
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    School of Hard Knocks. "The Learning Curve", by John Foulcher and "Life Given", by Graeme Hetherington and "History: Selected Poems, 1978-2000", by Michael Sharkey. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) King, Richard
    John Foulcher’s "The Learning Curve" is a sequence of poems set in a fictional school called Saint Joseph’s. Using mainly dramatic monologues, Foulcher paints a depressing picture of a school where professional disappointments, an inept and religion-infested staff, and a general air of mutual loathing combine to produce what amounts to a psychological tragedy (with some physical tragedies thrown in for good measure). Like "The Learning Curve", Graeme Hetherington’s "Life Given" is effectively a sequence and deals at length with the traumas of childhood. Unlike "The Learning Curve", however, "Life Given" gives it to the reader straight, in traditional lyric form. So explicit, indeed, is Hetherington about his own unpleasant childhood and general state of mind that a reference to ‘confessional’ poetry is almost unavoidable. Many of the poems in Michael Sharkey's "History: Selected Poems 1978–2000" would have benefited from a bit of smartening up. This is a shame, because Sharkey can write attractively. His best poems are those about love, which have a distracted, outsiderish quality.
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    Lost Wings in Angel Rock. "Angel Rock", by Darren Williams. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) Byrne, Madeleine
    "Angel Rock" revolves around the story of lost children. First, the two Ferry boys go missing, then a sixteen-year-old girl from the town. The anti-hero detective, Gibson, is also a lost child seeking answers to a crime committed in his youth. The novel is essentially a picaresque, within the crime fiction genre, but also a kind of Australian Gothic filled with evangelical preachers, forbidden desire and idiot savants. If Williams had followed the crime fiction genre more closely, "Angel Rock" might have ushered in something new in Australian writing. A tighter narrative would have improved the novel’s overall pace. Williams does, however, create a strong sense of place and community.
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    The Last Place to Love. "The Bread with Seven Crusts", by Susan Temby. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) Tetaz, Carolyn
    "The Bread with Seven Crusts" is primarily the story of the relationship between Giuseppe Lazaro, an Italian POW, and Eddy Nash, an Australian nurse. It is an earnest book that tackles some rich and interesting themes. You can see the potential in Temby’s novel, at times you can even feel it straining through the writing, but it remains unrealised. Temby covers a decent range of issues, obtaining good mileage from her material, and her depiction of Australia during World War II is convincing. She deals with war as a crucible, particularly in the lives of women; the unrelenting grind of poverty in rural Australia; the tensions of crosscultural relationships; the guilt and retribution of postwar marriages; the acceptance and experience of migrants in Australia, and the experience of exile and imprisonment.
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    October Highlights.
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09)
    This item contains higlights for the October 2002 issue of the 'Australian Book Review'.
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    Lonely War. "SAS: Phantoms of War: A History of the Australian Special Air Service", by David Horner and "Chased by the Sun: Courageous Australians in Bomber Command in World War II", by Hank Nelson. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) Dillon, Hugh
    Hank Nelson’s study of Australian aircrew in RAF Bomber Command during World War II is an excellent addition to the school of military history. Bomber Command has been the subject of some very good and very poor history writing. "Chased by the Sun" is the best social history yet written in the field. It is a pity it has taken half a century, but we may be thankful for its arrival to tell a sadly forgotten but extraordinary story. "SAS: Phantoms of War" is another in Allen & Unwin’s valuable series of Australian military histories. David Horner’s revised history of the SAS Regiment is timely given the unit’s involvement in Afghanistan. Professor Horner, an exsoldier, writes a traditional type of regimental history, but with academic rigour. The original edition was published in 1989 and, but for two additional chapters bringing the story up-to-date, it has not been significantly revised.
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    No Rabbi, No Standards. "Australian Genesis: Jewish Convicts and Settlers, 1788-1860", by John S. Levi and G.F.J. Bergman. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) Markus, Andrew
    Jews formed a continuous presence in the Australian colonies from the outset of European settlement. Of the 759 convicts on the First Fleet, thirteen, possibly fourteen, were Jews. Levi asserts that Australia became ‘the only community of European people in which Jews were present from the moment of its establishment’. By 1838, 400 Jewish convicts had been transported, with another 300 arriving over the next fifteen years. The substantial increase in free migration saw the Jewish population reach 1900 late in 1851 and increase almost threefold during the gold rushes. Readers of this book will learn much of the minutiae of individual lives. Not infrequently, the accumulation of detail assumes epic proportions, but Levi is an accomplished stylist and rarely loses the reader’s attention. The publisher’s claim that the book ‘reads like a thriller’ is no overstatement. This handsomely designed edition, incorporating eighteen pages of colour plates and ninety-two text illustrations, creditably serves this labour of love.
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    Sparkle in Microhistory. "Death of a Notary: Conquest and Change in Colonial New York", by Donna Merwick. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) McPhee, Peter
    On one level, this is the story of Adriaen Janse van Ilpendam, a Dutch schoolmaster and notary based in the small settlement of Beverwijck, later known as Albany, who hanged himself on 12 March 1686, seventeen days after meeting with his last clients. On another level, this story of one man’s tragedy is used to prise open a window into the Netherlands’ seventeenth century North American colonies. Janse was caught between the colliding imperial worlds of the Netherlands and England. In Merwick’s words: ‘how it was that an imperial power’s design for territorial acquisition, military invasion and occupation, visions of continental hegemony, how these forces met with and made a casualty of so small a life as Janse’s.’
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    Let's Not Forget Albion. "The Enlightenment and the Origins of European Australia", by John Gascoigne. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) Prest, Wilfrid Robertson
    Australian historiography, in the 1970s and 1980s, was dominated by a nativist reaction against Anglocentricity and the dreaded ‘cultural cringe’. Its more extreme manifestations rejected any comparative perspective that might blur an exclusive focus on Australia’s historical distinctiveness. But time, and academic fashion, moved on. Now John Gascoigne directs his formidably learned gaze to the social history of ideas in Australia from 1788 to 1850. The result is an engaging, lucid and wide-ranging overview, which triumphantly re-emphasises the intellectual benefits of integrating the study of Australia’s colonial past more closely with that of imperial Britain.
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    The Big Stick. "Social Action: A Teleological Account", by Seumas Miller. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) Reinhardt, Lloyd
    Explanation in social theory or social science must come down to the choices, decisions and actions of individual human beings and their reasons for acting. Obviously, this does not rule out earthquakes, floods and meteor storms as powerful causes of historical and social change; but they only change the human world via the agency of human beings. Seumas Miller’s book does not mention ‘methodological individualism’, and it is a gloss to relate it to that debate in philosophy of social science. Miller argues against the existence of any entities other than human beings (and some other animals) who have beliefs, intentions and ends. There are no irreducibly collective or corporate beliefs and intentions. What underlies the appearance of collective belief or intention are ‘joint actions’ and ‘collective ends’. A collective end is an end that a person has and cannot realise or bring about without engaging in joint action with beings who also have that end.
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    Understanding Others. "Ethical Encounter: The Depth of Moral Meaning", by Christopher Cordner. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) Curthoys, Jean
    Christopher Cordner’s project of restoring to moral philosophy a notion of moral depth is so modestly presented that one could miss the enormity of what he is attempting and of what this book could help achieve. At the most general level, Cordner’s book profoundly shifts the focus of our moral thinking, both in moral philosophy and in everyday life. We are too immersed, he believes, in the Enlightenment notion that morality is about ‘improving things’, where the improvement is assumed to be in our external situation. The notion that we should ‘help people’ is also often based on the assumption that it is the results of our actions that matter. Insofar as these notions neglect the spirit in which such help or improvement may be undertaken (whether, say, it is done condescendingly or with compassion), they are relatively superficial. In their place — or rather, to provide them with their proper foundation — Cordner articulates what he claims are our deeper, but more covert, moral intuitions. According to these, it is appropriateness of response that is most fundamentally required of us. Since this obliges us to attend to the meaning of what we and others do, moral problems become primarily ones of adequate understanding and only secondarily of ‘doing the right thing’.
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    Was Sisyphus a Pusher? "What's Wrong with Addiction?", by Helen Keane and "Modernising Australia's Drug Policy", by Alex Wodak and Timothy Moore. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) Manderson, Desmond
    The current legal régime for the regulation of drugs has many unintended consequences. One of its minor tragedies is the number of thinkers and activists whose valuable energies are thus diverted to the Sisyphean labour of undoing it. So many words have now been written on the failure of prohibition that there is surely little more to be added. More than a decade ago, former Senator Peter Baume expressed it well: ‘Our strategies seek to prevent the production of certain designated illegal substances, and fail to do so; they seek to prevent the importation of substances, and fail to do so; they seek to prevent the distribution of substances, and fail to do so; they seek to prevent the sale and use of substances, and fail to do so.’ Instead, our laws and policies make all these activities that much more dangerous, more corrupt, more poisonous and more destructive. Nevertheless, new books appear. Some are by bright young scholars for whom the very perversity of the laws is strangely compelling, and the paradox of the entrenched community support they enjoy compellingly strange: Helen Keane’s "What’s Wrong with Addiction?" falls into this category. Still others are penned by hardened front-line warriors whose long experience in the field gives them an authority and directness that commands our respect: Alex Wodak and Timothy Moore’s short manifesto, "Modernising Australia’s Drug Policy", falls into this category. Together these two recent texts provide us with a clear picture of our present problems in dealing with drugs, and the occasional glimmer of an alternative future.
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    Varuna - The Writer's House. [advertisement]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09)
    This item is an advertisement for Varuna - The Writer's House. The Writers’ House is a national centre for writing retreats and manuscript development. Each year since 1991, Varuna has offered writers in all genres, at all levels of experience and from all parts of Australia the opportunity to work in an environment famously dedicated to writing for three weeks.
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    September 11: A Symposium.
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) Fraser, Morag
    Post-September 11, in Australia, as in the USA, the ad hominem tactic has had a thorough workout, and the patriotism card is the most thumbed in the deck. As a consequence, it becomes increasingly difficult, even in our two democracies, to debate crucial matters — ones that have potential life or death decisions written into them — and even harder to make the debate count. Spin rules. Public servants are formed into ‘task forces’ to keep its wheels turning. Propaganda thrives. Misinformation becomes a ministerial tool, and denigration replaces argument. Draconian laws that once would have been rejected by a public outraged at the infringement of their civil and political rights are passed into law in an atmosphere of contrived panic. There are plenty of journalists and commentators who have now had a rapid education in the consequences of dissent: abuse, threats, dismissal. And this in vaunted democracies. What kind of example, or hope, one has to ask, does this provide to people in other parts of the globe who live without even the presumption of democracy and freedom? What is lost, in this overheated atmosphere, is understanding, a readiness to reflect, and the analytical capacity to link cause, particularly historically complex cause, with effect. And so we blunder on in a politics of confusion, confabulation and vested interest.
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    Ideological Moments. [poem]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) Porter, Peter
    This item is a poem by Peter Porter.
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    Islamic Variations. "Faithlines: Muslim Conceptions of Islam and Society", by Riaz Hassan. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) Lahoud, Nelly
    This book is a study of Muslims’ perceptions of religion and society. Among the related aspects it explores are self-image and gender relations in Islam. The study is a survey-type questionnaire, carried out in four Muslim countries: Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt and Kazakhstan. The book comprises nine chapters, including a comprehensive Introduction that relates the aims of the study to a variety of literature on Islam, ranging from the fourteenth-century work al-Muqaddima, of Ibn Khaldun, to contemporary writings by influential Islamologists such as Fazlur Rahman and Muhammad Arkoun. The author is clearly well-versed in a wide-ranging literature on Islam. In this respect, the book is impressive in its intellectual scope. Perhaps the most complex aim of the book is to examine the influence of religion in various institutional configurations — that is, to assess the extent to which Muslims assign trust and legitimacy in religious institutions compared to state institutions.
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    Long Night's Journey. "Journey to the Inner Mountain: In the Desert with St Anthony", by James Cowan. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-09) McGirr, Michael
    James Cowan has a gift for writing about shadowy figures. His previous book, "Francis: A Saint’s Way", probed the many myths that have gathered over the centuries around the figure of Francis of Assisi. In many ways, Cowan’s new book, "Journey to the Inner Mountain", is a companion volume to "Francis". If anything, it is in search of an even more slippery character than Francis: St Antony of Egypt. Cowan is keen to liberate Antony from his ecclesial context. He attempted to do the same with Francis. In both cases, this leads to some valuable links across communities that can stifle themselves by being isolated from each other. In Francis’s case, Cowan made fascinating links to Islam. In Antony’s case, he builds bridges in many directions, to Zen and even to the Marquis de Sade. But he tends to downplay the manner in which those who isolate themselves from a community continue to address that community and even reveal aspects of the community to itself.
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