Franz Kafka’s A Report to the Academy is a short story, in the form of a first-person account voiced by a human-like ape who was shot and captured in West Africa then transported to Europe by ship in a cage. ‘Red Peter’ is driven to escape his cage, so he embraces the process and performance of becoming human, which includes learning to speak and behave like one of his captors. ‘Freedom was not what I wanted,’ he reports, retrospectively. ‘Only a way out; right or left, or in any direction; I made no other demand; even should the way out […]
In the 1997 film The Castle, the obvious-talking young narrator named Dale Kerrigan has a totalising faith in the promise of shared, familial love. Even the threat of potential house demolition, the material site of this ‘togetherness’, merely commits him further to the promise. Yet we only know this promise once it flickers; once it passes to unreliability. For Dale, this happens at two precise moments when he surveys his family sharing tender points in time. As if short-circuited, the wholesome scenes are dramatically cut in the film. Instead of warm fuzzies, all Dale can think about is his brother, […]
President Harry Truman attracted much enmity in the post-Roosevelt era of the 1940s. Sometimes it was based on little more than snobbery about his humble origins. More substantively, programs such as health-care reform incited the hostility of entrenched interests. Decades later, President Bill Clinton liked to say of his now-lionised predecessor: ‘My family supported Truman when he was actually president.’ The memorial service for Bob Hawke last Friday was a similar mix of reality, misremembrance and romanticism. The ingredients of political success remain both obvious and mysterious. It is now broadly acknowledged that Hawke led a highly competent government of […]
In March 1996, three US servicemen stationed in Okinawa were convicted of the abduction and sexual assault of a 12-year-old Japanese girl. It was the first time the US military prosecuted any of its soldiers since they first occupied the island in the 1940s. This is despite the fact that Japanese activists had protested both the occupation itself, and the apparent impunity of the servicemen since one of them raped a six-year-old girl in 1955. Those three servicemen all pleaded guilty to various charges associated with the assault. This caused ripples in a military known to be myopically protective of […]
I am acutely aware while visiting other places that I am in the home of the ancestors whose stories since ancient times are preserved in the land, seas, skies and atmosphere. These stories of country live inside us and are ‘the extraordinary literacy of place’, of ancient land titles, and are similar to understanding the old stories of places that the British landscape writer Robert Macfarlane might describe as being the ‘intricate stories to map the landscape’.
Tell me more about New York, her mother says, shifting on the overstuffed couch to make room for Clara. The green leather creaks. You really are in the big smoke now. But then it’s not all that wet, is it? It’s wet enough, Clara answers. Wetter than it is here in Melbourne. Her mother sighs. I don’t know. Last year Osaka had 1624 millimetres. And New York was what, 58 millimetres in February?
As my 20-year working life at the University of Melbourne was coming to its natural end by teaching for the last time an introductory subject on modern poetry during the first half of 2018, Andrea and I were planning to spend the following four months travelling in the far north of Australia, first crossing the Great Sandy Desert on the Tanami Track up from Alice Springs to revisit a community in that desert where we had lived for most of the past two years, and then crossing and recrossing the area of Western Australia known as the Kimberley, a craggy region of spinifex, boab trees and laterite still sparsely populated and still unforgiving to the unprepared.
What is the peculiar
consolation of a sky
like a violet lamp
above a crunched-foil sea?
Meanwhile, your mother
does not love you.