Currently reading…

Yes, the Proust project continues in fits and starts. I find I can travel over to Proustland and stay for several hours with enormous pleasure, then go elsewhere for a day or a month and return where I had left off to take on that special world once more.  I am now into The Captive – so I have made progress since July. See Proust: visiting a demented relative? Thanks, Kobo – but it does mean I am reading via eBook the old Scott Moncrieff translation. See also: All about the new Penguin/Viking editions of Marcel Proust’s great novel, À la recherche du temps perdu, once known in English as Remembrance of Things Past but now more accurately titled In Search of Lost Time.

Picture0074

Loved John Lanchester’s Capital. From The New York Times review:

Lanchester, a brainy, pleasure-loving polymath, is a novelist, memoirist and journalist who writes sagely and elegantly about food, family, culture, technology and money. He’s still best known for his delectably wicked first novel, “The Debt to Pleasure,” which blends murder with gourmandise. But he has also written a well-reasoned nonfiction book entitled “I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay,” which closely analyzes the current financial collapse. Now, with “Capital,” he readjusts his sights and zooms out, framing a larger, more inclusive picture that shows how the easy-­money era affected not just greedy speculators but the society that fattened around them.

The fiction I am currently savouring is The Importance of Being Seven, the sixth collection of episodes set in Scotland Street, Edinburgh, by Alexander McCall Smith. I read the seventh one in December: Bertie Plays the Blues. But no matter that I am out of sequence; the delight is undimmed.

Non-fiction just now is A Wild History: Life and Death on the Victoria River Frontier by Darrell Lewis. Tom Griffiths on Inside.Org rates it one of the best (overlooked) books of 2012.

If Ned Kelly had been gentler and more learned but just as much a bushman he might have written A Wild History: Life and Death on the Victoria River Frontier (Monash University Publishing, $29.95). Darrell Lewis’s book is a distillation of bush wisdom and scholarly tenacity, of courageous fieldwork and equally adventurous archival sleuthing, of forty years of learning the country and of a lifetime of listening to history. Lewis has walked the Victoria River District in Australia’s northwest, swum its crocodile-infested rivers, got to know its plants, animals and people, slept under its stars, inspected its caves, recorded its inscriptions on rock and tree, and then pursued its material diaspora wherever it may have migrated. I am reminded of a great landmark work in Australian history, A Million Wild Acres, a book about the Pillaga Scrub by another bush scholar, Eric Rolls. Lewis’s book is full of frontier stories, superbly researched and skilfully told. And the book to look out for in early 2013 is The Archaeology of Australia’s Deserts (Cambridge University Press) by Mike Smith. It’s the most important work in Australian archaeology since John Mulvaney’s The Prehistory of Australia (1969).

See also John Rickard in The Australian Book Review:

The Victoria River District is unusual in its lack of family dynasties with roots in the pioneer generation. The early settlers, who were occupying vast tracts of land, tended eventually to sell up and return to something more like civilisation. Lewis puts this down to the harsh climate, and to the remoteness and isolation, which lacked the ameliorating influence usually provided by country towns. With the high turnover of station staff, there has been ‘a weak transmission of local knowledge’. The irony is that Aborigines, who, unlike the settlers, ‘don’t come from somewhere else, stay for a period and then leave’, are actually ‘the “keepers” of much “European” history’. Lewis knows the District’s Aboriginal communities well, and is able to draw on the perspective on European settlement of those who so fiercely resisted it.

Lewis stresses the sophistication of Aboriginal land use, particularly in the deployment of fire. ‘They knew that burning at the appropriate time would promote the flowering of certain plant species, and the growth of particular food plants, or would attract desirable animals to the burnt area, and they knew that if they burnt certain food plants in patches over time, the plants would fruit over an extended season.’ This seems consistent with the argument recently advanced by Bill Gammage in his prize-winning The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia (2011), which presumably was not available to Lewis when
he was writing A Wild History

At the heart of A Wild History, however, is a meticulous account of the halting progress of European settlement and the varied opposition it faced from the District’s thirteen or so Aboriginal peoples or language groups…

A Wild History is a fine piece of scholarship, exemplary in its judicious interpretation of both white and Aboriginal oral tradition, as well as the documentary sources. Just as the story begins with ‘the aura about the country’ firing Lewis’s imagination, so at the end it is the landscape, majestic, beautiful, forbidding, that has the last word. Keith Windschuttle could learn a lot from this book.

I doubt KW would, alas – but I have been finding the book quite a revelation.

awh-cover-print

from the cover of A Wild History

And then there is William James.

james

The Varieties of Religious Experience

A Study in Human Nature

William James

To
E.P.G.
IN FILIAL GRATITUDE AND LOVE

1902

Yes it is dated, but on the other hand what a great classic it is!  Makes you wonder whether we really have learned a great deal that matters since 1902.  I certainly am enjoying this very belated first acquaintance.

Advertisements

There are things that matter and things I really don’t care two hoots about…

For example:

201210

Click that for the latest report from NOAA.

Read in today’s Sydney Morning Herald Where even the earth is melting.

THE world is on the cusp of a "tipping point" into dangerous climate change, according to new data gathered by scientists measuring methane leaking from the Arctic permafrost and a report presented to the United Nations on Tuesday.

"The permafrost carbon feedback is irreversible on human time scales," says the report, Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost. "Overall, these observations indicate that large-scale thawing of permafrost may already have started."

While countries the size of Australia tally up their greenhouse emissions in hundreds of millions of tonnes, the Arctic’s stores are measured in tens of billions…

Geologist Dr Iain Stewart in Earth: The Power of the Planet (2007– )

And so many other things today, reaching a grand climax in THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD!!!! Yes, it’s JULIA, THE VAMPIRE FROM SLATER AND GORDON! JULIA THE GETAWAY CAR DRIVER! JULIA OF BONNIE AND CLYDE FAME!  Or as I said, risking being labelled sexist perhaps, on Facebook last night and yesterday afternoon, especially having watched Julia Bishop’s confected outrage during her press conference:

This "Get Julia" session of Parliament is perhaps the lowest point Australian politics has reached in my lifetime — even counting the Dismissal, which at least was about very serious matters. Right now I couldn’t care less if Julia turns out to have been a vampire 20 years ago. I just want to see her government governing, albeit in many areas not very well — refugee policy for one– and the Opposition looking like a credible alternative and not a pack of slavering bitches — no gender implied…

Congrats Julie Bishop on yr press conference. Succeeded in firming up a vote for Labor with me. Well done! What a heap of ordure this now is…

Julie Bishop: why should I care? I really don’t any more. Try policy debate instead of this crap and let the government govern. I really do not care what Julia may or may not have done 20 years ago according to the gossip and hearsay you are retailing no matter that it’s in a stat dec, which you know as well as I proves nothing except that the declarer asserts he/she thinks whatever it is is true — maybe…

Pissed off because the overblown rhetoric pre carbon tax is now proven piffle? Is that it?

If you can be bothered, here is the latest little gem:

BRUCE Wilson, Julia Gillard’s former boyfriend, said he ”perhaps” asked an AWU employee to deposit $5000 in her bank account, but could not recall it. The PM said she could not remember receiving such a sum.

Mr Wilson, appearing on the ABC, was emphatic that no money from the union slush fund set up by him and fellow official Ralph Blewitt was spent on Ms Gillard’s house. He said that after there were technical problems getting the fund registered, he had asked Ms Gillard to help. ”It was a simple matter that needed to be done, she did it, end of story.”

Mr Wilson said he had not benefited financially from the fund but said Mr Blewitt had taken money out. He had been ”packaging it up and burying it in his backyard” – and some of it rotted away. Mr Wilson felt sorry that Ms Gillard ”has to go through all this because it’s just not warranted”.

MICHELLE GRATTAN

See also Lenore Taylor’s Bishop bluster loses wind in an obvious absence of evidence.

However, some real light on this and related matters does come from these three posts and their comment threads. The three bloggers together represent years of experience in the law, business, and the Australian Public Service and are all far more qualified than I am.

Finally, not a story of cosmic significance perhaps but a nice local one nonetheless — about Yours and Owls and my ex-student Stewart Holt (not “Stuart”) — Illawarra Mercury today.

Charges against the owners of Wollongong cafe-bar Yours and Owls have been dismissed following a graffiti incident at the venue earlier this year.

Two of the venue’s three owners – Balunn Jones and Ben Tillman – stood accused of malicious damage after a graffiti message appeared on the business’s Kembla Street facade in March.

Last month the charges were withdrawn and dismissed.

Mr Jones credited solicitor Stuart Holt – a regular customer who offered his services pro bono – with seeing through the case.

The venue is now hosting a new street art project on its inside walls, but Mr Jones said the trio planned to soon sell the business.

"Hopefully it goes to someone who’s got a similar point of view to us and it doesn’t just fade away. It would be nice if it happened."

Mr Jones said the trio was selling "for a variety of reasons", but did not elaborate.

The men – friends from the Illawarra’s northern suburbs – opened Yours and Owls in 2010.

The Mystery of a Hansom Cab

Chapter III.
One Hundred Pounds Reward.

V.R. MURDER. 100 POUNDS REWARD.

“Whereas, on Friday, the 27th day of July, the body of a man, name unknown, was found in a hansom cab. AND WHEREAS, at an inquest held at St. Kilda, on the 30th day of July, a verdict of wilful murder, against some person unknown, was brought in by the jury. The deceased is of medium height, with a dark complexion, dark hair, clean shaved, has a mole on the left temple, and was dressed in evening dress. Notice is hereby given that a reward of 100 pounds will be paid by the Government for such information as will lead to the conviction of the murderer, who is presumed to be a man who entered the hansom cab with the deceased at the corner of Collins and Russell Streets, on the morning of the 27th day of July.”

HansomCab

Coming up on ABC1 next Sunday.

Simon Caterson’s “Introduction” to the Text Classics edition of The Mystery of the Hansom Cab:

THE bestselling crime novel of the nineteenth century was not written by Arthur Conan Doyle or Wilkie Collins. That distinction belongs to Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, which appeared in the year before Sherlock Holmes made what was, by comparison, a rather unspectacular debut in A Study in Scarlet.

The Hansom Cab was an overnight sensation when published in Melbourne in 1886, and it rapidly found readers around the world, especially in Britain. As many as 750,000 copies were sold during Hume’s lifetime, nearly half that number within the first six months of publication in London in 1887.

Advertised in its first English edition as “a startling and realistic story of Melbourne social life,” The Hansom Cab was a first novel which had been written almost by accident and was self-published. Despite these modest beginnings the book became a huge international success and was translated into eleven languages. In its obituary for Hume in 1932, the Times was to note that “everybody read it eagerly and in fact it went all over the world.”…

You can get a free eBook from the University of Adelaide.

humeMrs. Hableton’s particular grievance was want of money. Not by any means an uncommon one, you might remind her; but she snappishly would tell you that “she knowd that, but some people weren’t like other people.” In time one came to learn what she meant by this. She had come to the Colonies in the early days — days when the making of money in appreciable quantity was an easier matter than it is now. Owing to a bad husband, she had failed to save any. The late Mr. Hableton — for he had long since departed this life — had been addicted to alcohol, and at those times when he should have been earning, he was usually to be found in a drinking shanty spending his wife’s earnings in “shouting” for himself and his friends. The constant drinking, and the hot Victorian climate, soon carried him off, and when Mrs. Hableton had seen him safely under the ground in the Melbourne Cemetery, she returned home to survey her position, and see how it could be bettered. She gathered together a little money from the wreck of her fortune, and land being cheap, purchased a small “section” at St. Kilda, and built a house on it. She supported herself by going out charing, taking in sewing, and acting as a sick nurse, So, among this multiplicity of occupations, she managed to exist fairly well.

And in truth it was somewhat hard upon Mrs. Hableton. For at the time when she should have been resting and reaping the fruit of her early industry, she was obliged to toil more assiduously than ever. It was little consolation to her that she was but a type of many women, who, hardworking and thrifty themselves, are married to men who are nothing but an incubus to their wives and to their families. Small wonder, then, that Mrs. Hableton should condense all her knowledge of the male sex into the one bitter aphorism, “Men is brutes.”

Possum Villa was an unpretentious-looking place, with one, bow-window and a narrow verandah in front. It was surrounded by a small garden in which were a few sparse flowers — the especial delight of Mrs. Hableton. It was, her way to tie an old handkerchief round her head and to go out into the garden and dig and water her beloved flowers until, from sheer desperation at the overwhelming odds, they gave up all attempt to grow. She was engaged in this favourite occupation about a week after her lodger had gone. She wondered where he was.

“Lyin’ drunk in a public-’ouse, I’ll be bound,” she said, viciously pulling up a weed, “a-spendin’ ’is, rent and a-spilin’ ’is inside with beer — ah, men is brutes, drat ’em!”

Just as she said this, a shadow fell across the garden, and on looking up, she saw a man leaning over the fence, staring at her.

“Git out,” she said, sharply, rising from her knees and shaking her trowel at the intruder. “I don’t want no apples to-day, an’ I don’t care how cheap you sells ’em.”

Mrs. Hableton evidently laboured under the delusion that the man was a hawker, but seeing no hand-cart with him, she changed her mind.

“You’re takin’ a plan of the ’ouse to rob it, are you?” she said. “Well, you needn’t, ’cause there ain’t nothin’ to rob, the silver spoons as belonged to my father’s mother ’avin’ gone down my ’usband’s, throat long ago, an’ I ain’t ’ad money to buy more. I’m a lone pusson as is put on by brutes like you, an’ I’ll thank you to leave the fence I bought with my own ’ard earned money alone, and git out.”

Mrs. Hableton stopped short for want of breath, and stood shaking her trowel, and gasping like a fish out of water.

“My dear lady,” said the man at the fence, mildly, “are you — ”

“No, I ain’t,” retorted Mrs. Hableton, fiercely, “I ain’t neither a member of the ‘Ouse, nor a school teacher, to answer your questions. I’m a woman as pays my rates an’ taxes, and don’t gossip nor read yer rubbishin’ newspapers, nor care for the Russings, no how, so git out.”

“Don’t read the papers?” repeated the man, in a satisfied tone, “ah! that accounts for it.”

Mrs. Hableton stared suspiciously at the intruder. He was a burly-looking man, with a jovial red face, clean shaven, and his sharp, shrewd-looking grey eyes twinkled like two stars. He was, well-dressed in a suit of light clothes, and wore a stiffly-starched white waistcoat, with a massive gold chain stretched across it. Altogether he gave Mrs. Hableton finally the impression of being a well-to-do tradesman, and she mentally wondered what he wanted.

“What d’y want?” she asked, abruptly.

“Does Mr. Oliver Whyte live here?” asked the stranger.

“He do, an’ he don’t,” answered Mrs. Hableton, epigrammatically. “I ain’t seen ’im for over a week, so I s’pose ’e’s gone on the drink, like the rest of ’em, but I’ve put sumthin’ in the paper as ’ill pull him up pretty sharp, and let ’im know I ain’t a carpet to be trod on, an’ if you’re a friend of ’im, you can tell ’im from me ’e’s a brute, an’ it’s no more but what I expected of ’im, ’e bein’ a male.”…

I’ll leave you to your own judgement of that, but why did I inadvertently find myself thinking “Gillard” for some reason? You may ignore that if you like.

So I am rereading my eBook version. Can’t say it is the world’s greatest book, but it is interesting. I am sure the adaptation on Sunday will be well worth a look.

See also Hume, Fergusson Wright (Fergus) (1859–1932) and The Case of the "Growler" and the Handsome Hansom which is not directly relevant but introduces a nice blog from a Tasmanian historian.


Visit a bookshop week starts 22 October – spread the word

OK, Jim. Will do.

Friday, 1 June 2012
New Dymocks store to open in Wollongong

After seven months without a dedicated new bookstore, Wollongong in NSW will soon see the return of Dymocks to its city centre.

Dymocks is set to open a 220 sqm store in August at Wollongong Central, the same shopping centre that was home to a Dymocks outlet which closed in 2010. The store will be operated by new franchise owners John and Antoinette Bernardi.

The store will employ eight staff once in full trading mode…

As previously reported by Bookseller+Publisher, following a string of bookshop closures in Wollongong, secondhand bookshop Perey’s Books began selling new-release titles this year, resulting in a significant increase in sales. Owner Jo Abrantes told Bookseller+Publisher at the time that she plans to extend the store’s trading hours and install an in-store cafe.

But what’s this from Perey’s Books?

We are moving to Melbourne!
We will be operating online only  for a few months from November onwards as we are moving to Melbourne.
We  have 1000’s of books that we don’t want to move so we are having a HUGE MOVING SALE.
Most books 50% off and some even 75% off the marked prices.

 

I must go up to Thirroul in the coming week to see if Jack and the Beanstalk is still going strong. Ah, apparently it is! Smile  Or should I wait until the weather gets warmer, as in January last year:

And here is something kind of related: Wollongong Readers.

Picture0046

On the Kobo I am still working my way through Marcel Proust. I am on the downhill run for Le Côté de Guermantes and in sight of Sodome et Gomorrhe. I do diversify though, taking in an essay by Francis Bacon or a biographical entry from one of several reference books sitting among the 2000+ books – mostly free – on the Kobo. The book – the real one – is proving fascinating. See The Brain is Wider than the Sky.

And for amusement:

Why is Wollongong pronounced "Woollongong"?

Harriet Veitch (2007)

Because if you don’t, Aunty Jack will come down and rip ya bloody arms off.
Steve Barrett, Glenbrook

This is a ploy to woo visitors who might otherwise be long gone.
Jim Dewar, North Gosford

Whatever the reason that Wollongong is pronounced Woolongong, it must be the same reason that Towradgi is pronounced Towrodgi and Woonona pronounced W’noona.
Wendy Shepherd, Austinmer

For the same reason that Woonona (a northern suburb of Wollongong) is pronounced Woonoona.
Allan Napier, Woonona

Because if yer don’t, I’ll rip yer bloody arms orf.
J. Barrie Brown, Gordon

Woodendong sounds a trifle vulgar and impotent.
Paul Roberts, Lake Cathie

In Cantonese, Wu Loong Gong literally translates as `black dragon harbour’, or more poetically, `the dragon got drunk and fell into the harbour’. Whatever it means, it is incontrovertable proof that the Chinese discovered Australia first.
Ian Hart, Canberra

For the same reason Canberra is pronounced `Kembra’, Sydney `Sydnie’ and Brisbane `Brisbn’.
Christina Windsor, Scarborough

Wollongong is the Aboriginal for `Look, here comes the monster’. The Aboriginals probably spelt it and pronounced it Woolongong but the First Fleeters were convicts and could not spell in Aboriginal.
Terry Gorman, Newport

It’s to make up for the mispronounciation of `maroon’ as `marone’.
Alan Baxter, Bronte

I guess that Wollongong is pronounced Woollongong for much the same reason that London is pronounced Lunden.
Des Storrier, Goulburn

Proust: visiting a demented relative?

I refer to the opinion of Germaine Greer:

If you haven’t read Proust, don’t worry. This lacuna in your cultural development you do not need to fill. On the other hand, if you have read all of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, you should be very worried about yourself. As Proust very well knew, reading his work for as long as it takes is temps perdu, time wasted, time that would be better spent visiting a demented relative, meditating, walking the dog or learning ancient Greek.

In Search of Lost Time, or Remembrance of Things Past, as Proust’s "novel" is variously titled in English, is widely touted as one of the favourite books of the 20th century, second only to The Lord of the Rings. Fans of Tolkien can certainly handle a marathon read, as can Harry Potter addicts; but whether they have stayed the distance with Proust seems to me highly doubtful.

But I have to confess getting into my seventieth year now while remaining to this point a Proust Virgin! Thanks to eBooks (Adelaide University) I now have the whole thing – free — on computer and Kobo. Yesterday I took the plunge.

swann

Sample:

I feel that there is much to be said for the Celtic belief that the souls of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and so effectively lost to us until the day (which to many never comes) when we happen to pass by the tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have recognised their voice the spell is broken. We have delivered them: they have overcome death and return to share our life.

And so it is with our own past. It is a labour in vain to attempt to recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.

Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory — this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it?

I think I am hooked. And one virtue, for me, of the eReader is that the Himalayas I am now ascending seem less daunting somehow screen by screen. Why, I am 20% through Swann’s Way already!

And even if the interviewer seems to be stoned:

There is a very handy cheat page in Wikipedia.

Critical reception

In Search of Lost Time is considered the definitive modern novel by many scholars. It has had a profound effect on subsequent writers such as the Bloomsbury Group. "Oh if I could write like that!" marveled Virginia Woolf in 1922…

Literary critic Harold Bloom wrote that In Search of Lost Time is now "widely recognized as the major novel of the twentieth century."  Vladimir Nabokov, in a 1965 interview, named the greatest prose works of the 20th century as, in order, "Joyce’s Ulysses, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Biely‘s Petersburg, and the first half of Proust’s fairy tale In Search of Lost Time." J. Peder Zane’s book The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, collates 125 "top 10 greatest books of all time" lists by prominent living writers; In Search of Lost Time places eighth. In the 1960s, Swedish literary critic Bengt Holmqvist dubbed the novel "at once the last great classic of French epic prose tradition and the towering precursor of the ‘nouveau roman’", indicating the sixties vogue of new, experimental French prose but also, by extension, other post-war attempts to fuse different planes of location, temporality and fragmented consciousness within the same novel. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon has called it his favorite book.

Proust’s influence (in parody) is seen in Evelyn Waugh‘s A Handful of Dust (1934), in which Chapter 1 is entitled "Du Côté de Chez Beaver" and Chapter 6 "Du Côté de Chez Tod." Waugh did not like Proust: in letters to Nancy Mitford in 1948, he wrote, "I am reading Proust for the first time …and am surprised to find him a mental defective" and later, "I still think [Proust] insane…the structure must be sane & that is raving.")

Since the publication in 1992 of a revised English translation by The Modern Library, based on a new definitive French edition (1987–89), interest in Proust’s novel in the English-speaking world has increased. Two substantial new biographies have appeared in English, by Edmund White and William C. Carter, and at least two books about the experience of reading Proust have appeared by Alain de Botton and Phyllis Rose…

E-books and editing–opportunity and hazard

Way back in the last century when word processing was hot new technology I knew nothing about I became a footnote in Australian literature – but I did learn a thing or two about publishing and editing. As I wrote back then:

AFTERWORD TO NEOS 1

If you have enjoyed this first issue of Neos as much as we have enjoyed bringing it to you, then our aims are achieved. We have had to select from material at hand; we hope you, our readers, will become contributors, widening the range on which we can draw. Yet we have been able to give you, in this initial sample, work in whose quality we believe…

We do not have rigid preconceptions concerning what and how you should write. But if we were to offer advice, it might be that of Ezra Pound*:

Use no superfluous word, no adjective which does not reveal something. Go in fear of abstractions… Use either no ornament or good ornament… If you are using a symmetrical form, don’t put in what you want to say and then fill up the remaining vacuums with slush… the proper and perfect symbol is the natural object, … if a man use “symbols” he must so use them that their symbolic function does not obtrude; so that a sense, and the poetic quality of the passage, is not lost to those who do not understand the symbol as such, to whom, for instance, a hawk is a hawk.

Advice we aim at; we do not always succeed.

Second, expect to discover things as you write: that is the joy of writing, as Australian poet Robert Gray observed in Island Magazine (June 7 1981):

All those details [in the poem "Telling the Beads"] which sound as if they’re the record of an experience I’ve had of walking into a garden in the morning are things that actually I never knew I’d observed, and when I sat down with a white sheet of paper those things came into my mind like a new experience. They’d obviously been things I’d encountered somewhere, in some form, but then I really saw them for the first time on the white page as I wrote, which is one of the reasons one enjoys writing so much.

Third, revise what you’ve written. Of this Robert Gray said:

I keep the drafts, and I just trust to my response to know if and where I’ve overworked it, but usually I haven’t. To me, to write well is to have the exact word. It’s absolutely essential to choose only the words that are appropriate and nothing else… I just try to always work for the feeling of clarity… I think if you’re going to say something, if you’re going to open your mouth at all, you have to be prepared to really examine and define and refine what you’re talking about until you get it right.

If then we decide to use your work, you may get from us some suggestions for further revision. This is not meant to discourage you. Rather, see us not as “experts” (which we’re not) but as your writing partners, dedicated to bringing out as well as possible what you want to say.

* Charles Norman (ed), Poets on Poetry, NY, Collier 1962, pp 320-333. John Hawke reminded me of Pound’s important statement. Robert Gray became a regular reader, I might add, and a keen supporter.

And later on I found myself editing – at his request, mind – Frank Moorhouse and then Rob and I found ourselves editing – virtually rewriting a sentence or two – Les Murray. Why? Because even truly accomplished writers — if in a hurry as were both, I suspect, doing guest pieces for us – can nod off. “Les Murray is Australia’s leading poet and one of the greatest contemporary poets writing in English. His work has been published in ten languages.”

So what happens with eBooks?  One prompt for this post was The Diary in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

WITH THE E-BOOK PHENOMENON

MAINSTREAM publishing houses are colonising new territory in the next stage of an e-book revolution that is changing not only how we read, but what we read, forever, The Guardian reports. After the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, which started out as an e-book series posted on a fan site by its author E L James, and which has become the world’s fastest-selling book, publishers are circling the thriving online platforms serving unpublished writers. Last week Pearson, the owner of Penguin Books, bought one of the biggest grassroots publishers, the American company Author Solutions, for £74 million ($111 million). The idea is that Pearson will no longer have to rely on spotting e-book successes early on; instead, they will own a new author’s work from the first moment it appears online. Last week the Glaswegian crime writer Denise Mina said she believed e-books would soon radically alter the publishing industry. After receiving a British crime novel of the year award for The End of the Wasp Season, she said: ”Nobody knows what sells. More so now because the market’s changing so fundamentally because of Kindle and electronic publishing … It’s going to change the sorts of stories that we hear, which is amazing.”

So we all know the potential even if we really have no idea yet where this will all end up. And of course the opportunities for young – and not-so-young—writers are just mind-blowing. What would Neos look like today? Well, go to Smashwords and you will find out: there are quite a few journals, some of them excellent, available there free! And some of them are edited – by which I mean the copy has passed before human eyes and informed brains before you get to see it. Sadly, however, there are plenty of cases where this doesn’t happen.

Writing isn’t easy and no writer, bloggers excepted perhaps, inflicts first drafts on his or her readers. Most writers would rather no-one except themselves and their editors ever saw their first drafts, let alone publish them. And yes, this is a first draft though it will get edited if I spot something really wrong with it. But then this is a blog, not a properly published piece of writing.

Sometimes the lack of editing leads to absurdities like these, from a book I am now reading.

“This belonged to my granddad” said George, “your great-grandfather. He was fighting the Japanese over in the Pacific during the war. When he died he passed the medal over to his son, my Father passed it down to me on my eightieth birthday. I was saving it for your eightieth. But being that you’re already on the way to become a man, I’ve decided to give it to you now. I hope you like it. This became a lucky charm for me. It helped me through many hard times, I can tell you. I hope that it will help you in the same way it helped me”

Context makes clear that should be “eighteenth” and a good editor and/or proof reader would have spotted this in a trice. And one more:

Ross’ room was jam-packed with cupboard boxes.

Oh the curse of the spell-checker! I will let you work that out.

If such things were infrequent I wouldn’t really complain, as I am not all that much of a pedant. Trouble is some published eBooks are so littered with such solecisms and worse – mangled sentences are worse—that one really does start to choke on what one is reading.

Now my two examples are from a good young writer from England – potentially a very good writer indeed. So apologies, really, to Nathan Davey (b. 1993).

h5hi58ud322qdgz69r8s

Nathan Davey

He has two books out there: Dust in the Wind and Aaron Connor.   Of these Aaron Connor is far and away the better. On Dust in the Wind I agree with a very thoughtful review on Amazon:

Ok… the good, the bad, the confusing…

The good: Ross and his friend Beth are truly nice kids. Their dialogue and interaction in the beginning of the book is very realistic and rather heartwarming… you can actually relive the nervousness of your first date and your first kiss.

Ross’s feelings for his family – especially his little sister. The emotional trauma and feelings that Ross goes through while trying to rescue his family, his reactions to what he sees "above" and his memories of better times before the nuclear bomb hit LA.

The secondary characters: General Gardner, Nick Beat, and how they meet Ross and Beth and the ties that are formed.

The bad: Maybe "bad" is a harsh word – instead, let’s call it "breaking out our inner child and suspending all belief" that the government could actually build an entire underground city and more importantly, would have enough moving vans and "helpers" to load everyone’s entire household on the same day and then convoy it down to their identical houses (and streets) below…

In my opinion, the author is truly talented – I just think he needs to pick a target age group and write consistently for that age. And, based on what I read, he would be successful at whatever that targeted age group would be.

I would still recommend this book and look forward to reading more from the author as I feel he is truly talented!

I think he is truly talented too, and Aaron Connor shows this, though even there I just don’t buy the ending… The nearer Davey writes to his experience and his genuine concerns, the better he is.

I have a little secret to tell you about Teachers. They don’t care about you. The only reason they want your grades to be high is to make the school look good. They don’t give a toss about your well being or about your future. To them it’s just a job, which is a bugger as their job should be helping you get a job. Of course, like everything these days, money always comes first doesn’t it? When will we all learn that it’s just paper? Life’s too short to be worrying about little pieces of green paper!

I mean, Teachers are dicks aren’t they? I can’t imagine why these people, who are meant to determine our future, could be such horrible people. Every Teacher I’ve ever come across has been a patronising, horrid, vile, smoke stinking, whiskey swilling, pompous, stuck up and arrogant old psychopath! They find joy in making you feel insignificant.

If you’re bullied, they don’t do anything useful to stop it. All they do is “have a word with them” which makes the bullies beat you up even harder for snitching. I bet there are good Teachers out there somewhere, it’s just a shame that I had all the nutters.

I and Teachers have never gotten along. Do you really want to know why? Because they blamed me for everything! If anything anti-social happened at the school, it always seemed that the finger was pointed at me, whether I was involved in the event or not. I never did stuff like that, but that didn’t stop the Teachers from assuming that I was the guilty one.

Just because of how you look or act they make assumptions about you. It’s so contradictory, as they spend entire assemblies going on and on about treating everyone as equals, when they themselves are the most judgemental sods I’ve ever known! If they smell cigarette smoke on the playground, they search for the first bloke in a hoodie they can find and punish them accordingly. No evidence, no jury, no plead for innocence just straight forward punishment. It was like being stuck in a George Orwell book!

Mr Bertgill was the worst of those judgemental horrors. I wasn’t particularly smart. That’s all there was to it. It wasn’t that I didn’t pay attention in class because I bloody well did. I took notes and asked questions and everything. The information just didn’t go into my little brain box. It went into one ear and then buggered off out the other.

That didn’t matter though. Mr Bertgill uses my dress code and background to create his own story in his head. In his head I’m a delinquent who disturbs classes, talks back to Teachers and plays games on his phone during lessons. He believes that I’m not even bothering to learn but that’s not true! I want a future as much as anybody!

There are some great chapters set in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival. Given that the Youth Theatre Group Davey has been associated with was there in a production not a million miles from the one described – well, one hopes there is a strong dash of poetic licence happening…

edfest09

From an actual Youth Theatre production in Edinburgh in 2009

based on this

The children were dressed in striped uniforms. Their hair was completely shaven, the hair they had before must have been wigs of some sort. They were marching in a lined procession up the street, led by several boys dressed as Nazis. The boys dressed as Nazis were goose-stepping and had their hands rose in a Hitler salute. At the back of the procession were two people, who were holding up large banners brandishing the swastika. Joe was at the back as well, holding an amplifier which was plugged into his MP3 player. From the MP3 player, Joe was playing Adolf Hitler’s Rally Speeches at full blast. The man with the monk haircut was whipping the young actors with a fake rubber whip, while singing the German national anthem.

The one thing that Joe hadn’t counted on, was a large group of German students and tourists being on the Royal Mile that day. If they had done this on a day in which the street was occupied by British people alone, all they would have got was a fair amount of tutting. Instead they got a massive backlash of hatred from the crowd.

One German man with a grey beard came out of the crowd, grabbed the amplifier from Joe’s hands and smashed it over his head. Joe went tumbling to the ground, as bits of broken plastic fell all over the cobblestone street. There was a massive cheer from the crowd.

Even though I shouldn’t have done, I smiled at the sight of it. Serves you right I thought, you insensitive bastard!

Interesting to see what Davey has been reading. (Amazing thing, this Internet!) There is something there I may follow up on myself.  Russell Brand.

So what of eBooks then?  I am rather glad to have had the opportunity to read a very promising writer fifty years younger than myself who lives on the other side of the planet. Not before eBooks would this have happened so readily. Still, I do wonder where editors, proof-readers and publishers will end up – and whether there may be a considerable loss there in the world of writing, or quality writing.

Younghusband

Consider:

In 1904, the town and monastery were attacked by British soldiers under the leadership of Francis Younghusband (commanding 1000 troops, 10,000 servants, and 4,000 yaks) and although most of the damage was later restored, bullet holes from this attack remain in the monastery to this day. Following the capture of Gyantse fort, the agreement signed by the Tibetan Regent, resulted in establishment of British Trade Missions at Gyantse and Mt. Kailash in Tibet. In 1906, the British signed an agreement with the Chinese authorities, which established their influence over Tibet and thus "effectively ending both British and Russian influence".

It was partially destroyed in 1959 after a revolt against Chinese rule. It was ransacked again during the Cultural Revolution, but has since been largely restored.[8][9] Prior to the uprising there were 1520 monks but now they number less than 80.

Consider:

Younghusband’s well-trained troops were armed with rifles and machine guns, confronting disorganized monks wielding hoes, swords, and  flintlocks.  Some accounts estimated that more than five thousand Tibetans were killed during the campaign, while the total number of  British casualties was about five.

Consider:

In 1901 The Living Races of Mankind was published. The book was compiled from various “eminent” specialists, and it gave illustrated accounts of the “customs, habits, pursuits, feasts & ceremonies of the races of mankind throughout the world.”  Within the book, the section dedicated to Tibet was written by A. H. Savage Landor, an Englishman who had traveled to Tibet in 1897. Landor describes the Tibetans as a deeply religious “race”, hostile towards strangers, very ignorant, immoral, and very dirty. He describes Tibet women as repulsive, unattractive, and having little to be admired. The only praise he has for them is that they are “vastly superiour in many ways to the Tibetan male, as she possesses a better heart, more courage, and a finer character.” This practice of classifying cultures or “races” was a very important tool for Western imperialism. By creating these classifications, imperialist could police discourse, assign positions, regulate groups, and enforce boundaries. It allowed the imperialist to classify the “Other” as barbarian or savage and validate its dehumanization of the “other” and justify the use of violence in order to impose European norms. The debasement of Tibetans by describing them as dirty, the Tibetan women as unattractive and repulsive, and the men as cowards, and immoral was therefore used to enforce colonial oppression and project a sense of inferiority on the Tibetan people. The describing of Tibetans as dirty and immoral was also part of the representational technique used to show the moral strength the British had over the Tibetans. This idea of Tibetans as lacking morals was a common idea among many British observers, like Younghusband and Curzon whose imperialist actions were subsequently seen as justified because of this perceived moral high ground…

9c9cc7f47f76e2bf_landing

And my latest reading:

kashmir

Sample:

From it one looks down through the wealth of forest on to the valley below, intersected with streams and water-channels, dotted over with wooded villages, and covered with rice-fields of emerald green; on to the great river winding along the length of the valley to the Wular Lake at its western end; on to the glinting roofs of Srinagar; on to the snowy range on the far side-valley; and, finally, on to Nanga Parbat itself.

And never for two days together is this glorious panorama exactly the same. One day the valley will be filled with a sea of rolling clouds through which gleams of sunshine light up the brilliant green of the rice-fields below. Above the billowy sea of clouds long level lines of mist will float along the opposite mountain-sides. Above these again will rise the great mountains looking inconceivably high. And above all will soar Nanga Parbat, looking at sunset like a pearly island rising from an ocean of ruddy light.

On another day there will be not a cloud in the sky. The whole scene will be bathed in a bluey haze. Through the many vistas cut in the forest the eye will be carried to the foot-hills sloping gradually towards the river, to the little clumps of pine wood, the village clusters of walnut, pear, and mulberry, the fields of rice and maize, to the silvery reaches of the Jhelum, winding from the Wular Lake to Baramula, to the purply blue of the distant mountains, then on to the bluey white of Nanga Parbat, sharply defined, yet in colour nearly merging into the azure of the sky, and showing out in all the greater beauty that we see it framed by the dark and graceful pines in which we stand.

And this forest has no mean attractions of its own, of which to my little girl the chief were the white columbines. Here also are found purple columbines, delphiniums, what are known as white slipper orchids, yellow violets, balsams, mauve and yellow primulas, potentillas, anemones, Jacob’s ladder, monkshood, salvias, many graceful ferns, and numerous other flowers of which I do not pretend to know the name.

What a paradox. There is a book I must try to get from the Library:

Patrick French’s biography of Francis Younghusband – `the last great imperial adventurer’ – is beautifully written, insightful and above all humane. I say humane because at first glance Younghusband could easily be ridiculed – in his youth for a reckless jingoism that cost lives and embarrassed the British government, and in his later years for a brand of religious mysticism that was, well, bordering on insane. It is a tribute to French’s understanding of his subject that he digs beneath these criticisms to bring us a deeply satisfying portrait of a surprisingly complex man.

Frank Younghusband’s most pressing claim on history was that he led the British expedition into Tibet in 1904 – even at the time seen as being based on a flimsy pretext of stopping Russia from gaining control of central Asia. Some 2000 Tibetans were killed as the British force made its way into Lhasa. Younghusband forced a treaty on the 13th Dalai Lama pledging loyalty to the British empire. The Government in London found this deeply embarrassing and almost immediately repudiated the treaty. Younghusband himself was convinced of the threat Russia presented to British interests in India and central Asia.

But while the expedition created popularity and profile in England, it finished any chances of a senior career with the civil service. Younghusband served in India in a number of middle-ranking posts and wrote books about Tibet and his earlier exploits as an explorer in central Asia. In 1906 he played a bit part in the Jamison raid in South Africa – in the pay of The Times. Most importantly Younghusband thought about spirituality. Literally following a mountain top revelation in Tibet, he increasingly devoted his life to promoting a form of all-embracing spirituality which led in its silliest form to speculations about aliens living on a planet called Altair. His later years were devoted to boosting this form of spirituality by establishing popular movements in England, lecturing widely including in the US, running the Royal Geographic Society and supporting Indian independence.

All of which one could easily ridicule. But French brings life to his subject and a subtlety of understanding which makes the book absolutely engrossing. One reason is that Younghusband was a prolific letter writer – the India Office Library contains 600 "bulging" boxes containing his papers. Through these we see into the private mental world of Francis – his arid and rather sad marriage to Helen, and the relationship in his very last years with Madeline Lees – truly the love of his life. These insights allow French to paint a much deeper and satisfying portrayal of a complex man – a person of his time and place but also a complete iconoclast, some one who pushed against the establishment for most of his life. Remarkably, this is Patrick French’s first book, written in his mid-twenties. He is a natural, a gifted writer with a fine sense of judgement. No sentence rings out of tune in the whole book. In short Younghusband is worth every one of its five stars. If the publishers have any sense they will issue a reprint soon. If not, readers should do everything they can to somehow find a copy of this wonderful biography.

image

The Kashmir of 1911 straddled much of north-west India and Pakistan. M was in the region – especially the Pakistani side – in 1999-2000. This is one of his photos from that time.

view7