Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Re-thinking the fugitive phenomenon

It turns out that this blog was well-named, I think. 'A fugitive phenomenon' was what Nicholas Jose called Australian literature in his essay on it for Australian Book Review last year (November 2005), and so, for me, here, it seems to have proved.

It's not that I've lost interest in blogging, quite the reverse; I never feel short of things to say over at Pavlov's Cat, and have a blogroll as long as your arm of people I check up on regularly, sometimes daily. And it's not that I've lost interest in Aust Lit; quite the reverse, again.

One problem is that most of the projects in which one gets involved are to some extent confidential, and you don't get to my my age without learning the value of discretion -- as well as, God knows, the price of indiscretion.

If one is reviewing a book, say, then it would be naff in the extreme to talk about the book en blog before the review that was commissioned and paid for by somebody else has actually appeared in whatever that publication was. If one is involved in an evolving team project then its details are likely to be confidential for excellent legal and other reasons. If one has just spent an hour on the phone to one of one's littery mates and caught up on a raft of gossip, most of it is the kind of stuff you don't want to be spreading around in public.

And if some scandal or kerfuffle or beat-up erupts, such as the Rosemary Neill piece in the the Weekend before last's Australian about the alleged disappearance of Aust Lit in the universities, then chances are one knows many of the players and has some inside knowledge of what the history of Aust Lit has been over the last few decades (ie its entire life as a university discipline) in particular universities.

No, between them the laws of libel and the fear of embarrassing or hurting one's friends and colleagues leave me with nowhere near as much to say on this topic as I thought I would have. Not publicly, anyway. And when it comes to pure information and summary on the subject, Perry at Matilda was already doing a fabulous job of this nearly a year before I ever took up blogging at all.

So it may be time to broaden my horizons: to keep the Australian accent, but use it to chat about books-and-writing issues in a more general way. For instance: did you know there's a new Thomas Harris out? Hannibal Rising is the back-story: how Hannibal Lecter got to be like that.

I come from a generation of people who were shaped by the Second World War in the sense that one way or another it brought our parents together or determined their circumstances and circumscribed their lives. Even in Australia this was true, and most Australians who were born between 1940 and 1960 have their own parents/war story to tell. But for the children of Europe, before, during and after the war, their lives were wrought and blighted in a way no safe Australian can well imagine; this is at the heart of Elizabeth Holdsworth's essay 'An die Nachgeborenen: for those who come after', which has just won Australian Book Review's inaugural Calibre Prize for essay writing.

And it's the wartime horrors of this European background that Harris uses for his famous cannibal. Hints and memories that appeared in Hannibal, the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, have been fleshed out (sorry) and brought to the foreground as, this time, the main event. I haven't actually read this book properly yet, but I've flicked through and can see where it's going. I think Harris is an underrated writer and I'm looking forward to this one, not just to be creeped out (crept out?), which I always enjoy (and yes I know it isn't nice), but also to appreciate his considerable storytelling technique and style.


  1. Thanks for the kind words. Hope I haven't pushed anyone away from blogging about Australian literature - I was hoping to do the exact opposite. But I take your point about being so deeply involved in it already to find it difficult to blog about it as well. I'm lucky in that I don't have anything other than an interest in the subject. Beyond common courtesy and fairness I don't have edit what I say.

    It will be good to read what you have to say about non-Australian fiction as well. And interesting that you should pick the new Thomas Harris book. I read the first one, "Red Dragon", when it first came out and was mightily impressed by it. Slightly less so with "Silence of the Lambs", and then very disappointed by "Hannibal". With the last of these it wasn't the subject matter but just that the book was so badly written, and so desperately in need of a strong editor with a big blue pen. Early reports of the latest in the series suggests it might be back to some sort of form.

  2. I agree that 'Hannibal' was a bit sloppily written, but a lot of it is brilliant, especially its cinematic qualities. That scene near the beginning where Starling meets Chilton's girlfriend in the coffee shop is a masterpiece of characterisation.

    I agree about Red Dragon, though. Did you see the movie(s), both v good? One in 1986 celled 'Manhunter' or something equally schlocky, and then 'Red Dragon' a few years ago, with Ed Norton as the spooky detective (can't remember his name!), a very buff Ralph Fiennes as Francis Dolarhyde, and Anthony Hopkins reprising Hannibal Lecter.

  3. I've seen all the films and "Manhunter" was the name of the first one. It was made by Michael Mann of Miami Vice fame and carries a bit of baggage because of that, but I liked it just the same. I've always liked Edward Norton as an actor so the recent remake was enjoyable.

    Actually, now that I come to think of it, the film version of "Hannibal" was better than the book. I had trouble reading the text as it kept on jarring all the time with new errors, and just crappy writing, turning up too often. He needed an editor to keep the good bits and to rein him back in when he decided to go over the top.

  4. Glad you're not closing this blog down. I've thought for a while that you were placed in a difficult position here - you read a vast amount but as you said, can blog very little of it, not when it's fresh, anyway.

    I think you had better not read Anthony Lane's pasting of Hannibal Rising.

  5. Yes quite a problem. I have wondered why you don't post your published reviews here. Is it a copyright issue? Surely not, - for act of crit, review or art, reproduction is permitted. Which this blog would be.
    & expanding it past these girt be sea seems a very good move. Too hard to ignore other good stuff really.

  6. Bernice, it's not about the legals. The journals do have rights but copyright remains with the writer. I could publish them here once they'd been published in the papers or journals for which they'd been commissioned; legally I could perhaps even do so beforehand, but there's no way I would, or even do any kind of pre-discussion here. Maintaining goodwill is extremely important in the freelance life and indeed just in the literary one.

    But I've never liked using one piece of writing to do more than one piece of work anyway, and I don't want the blog to become a repository for things that have already appeared elsewhere, which kind of goes against the whole point of blogging. What I often think I should do is put up links to things of mine that are online; that's more a question of never getting round to it, and being borde by the fiddliness.

    (Also, whoever puts the stuff online always seems to get something wrong, either in layout or in the text itself, in a way that completely changes the meaning or intent of what one wrote. And subs who don't know the scholarly conventions of spacing and quotation marks make some real howlers when they decide to get creative with what you've put in front of them.)

  7. I meant 'bored', of course, but in Blogger it's also very fiddly to edit comments, and I rather like 'borde'.