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March 6, 2015 / Southerly

Normal Land

by Andy Jackson

When I was a ten-year-old, almost everything I heard on the radio or saw on Countdown was intensely exciting and shrouded in adult mystery. It got my heart and imagination racing – bodies moving in rhythmic ecstasy, and the fantastic edifice of a stage. But a few songs took that enigmatic frisson of the body and its taboos, and turned it up to eleven1. One of these songs was performed by the inimitable Ian Dury – “Spasticus (Autisticus)”2.

In this post, I want to follow my suspicion that the dynamic of this song can shine some light on the nature of poetry, and on how we might live together. Over the course of the next four weeks, I want to put some thoughts down about form and deformity, poetry and reading, what separates and connects us. This week, it’s about normality and solidarity.

1981 was the International Year of the Disabled. Charity and pity was the dominant mode of engagement with disability. In protest, Ian Dury wrote “Spasticus (Autisticus)”. He wanted to confront people with the subjective actual reality of disabled people’s lives, through jet-black humour, shocking language and his trademark punk-funk groove. The song’s title is spat out with obvious relish dozens of times in the course of its catchy three minutes, the unsayable said over and over. “I’m Spasticus. I’m Spasticus. Spasticus Autisticus”. For all the repetition, it might have approached the realm of sound poetry, were the words not so persistently discomforting.

Ian Dury contracted polio as a young boy, and he knew the physical and social limitations of being “handicapped”. Even though he spoke from first-hand experience, at the time the lyrics were considered beyond the pale, and the BBC banned the song3; while in Australia, the ABC (in my memory) played only fragments. I remember of course the almost-shouted chorus, but not the more sensuous grooves and sly lyrics of the bridge:

Hello to you out there in Normal Land
You may not comprehend my tale or understand
As I crawl past your window give me lucky looks
You can read my body but you’ll never read my books

[Recording copyright: Polydor Records. Lyrics: Ian Dury & Chaz Jankel.]

Another thing I didn’t know at the time was the fact that “Spasticus Autisticus” sourced its provocative title, and its politics, from the 1960 Stanley Kubrick film “Spartacus”.4 At a key moment in the film, recaptured slaves, who had been rebelling against their Roman rulers, are told that their lives will be spared if they will only identify which of them is their leader Spartacus, and it is he who will be executed. Rather than betray him, one by one each slave steps forward and declares, “I am Spartacus”. Soon enough, hundreds of slaves are standing in unison, in a tremendous and sobering act of solidarity.

[Film copyright: Universal Studios.]

In the early 1980s, “spastic” was a vicious schoolyard slur. It implied physical limitation, a body which couldn’t look after itself, couldn’t move smoothly or independently, and certainly couldn’t possibly match up to the ideal of beauty. It was a word, too, that assumed a lack of intelligence. We still fear these “shortcomings”. Fear them deeply. Yet, surely, not matching up to “normality” is common to all of us.5 Words like “spastic” signify the wholly Other, the bottom rung of the social ladder. These are words rooted in ideas of biological determinism, yet they only have their power through speech, the act of labelling and exclusion. They create absolute difference – locking the so-called “spastic” in the ontological and social basement, while the majority try to carry on “as normal” (pun intended) in the world above. In reality, the divisions aren’t so clear or strong. We are all swimming in the same pool. There is an otherness within each of us.

“Spastic” was never a word that was thrown at me. “Hunchback” was. And many others. In my teenage years and my twenties, I was stared at and occasionally mercilessly taunted. I have a genetic condition called Marfan Syndrome, which for me has meant severe scoliosis.6 In the wake of this, I became a poet gradually. I wrote quietly and intently to the readership of myself, until in the late 1990s a friend encouraged me to read my poems at open mic nights and readings. I stood up and read, mostly short flawed lyrics of mild social rebellion with intimations of bodily pride I didn’t quite have yet – a confidence that existed in spite of my unusual shape, or perhaps even because of it. And at these poetry readings, on the stage, I felt a powerful silence come back. A silence that was the opposite of empty; that was filled with thought, feeling and ambiguity.

The more I immersed myself in poetry – reading it, writing it, performing it – the more I began to feel that poetry derived its power from the bodily experience of solidarity. The Macquarie Dictionary defines solidarity as “union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests” or “community of interests, feelings, purposes”.7 Solidarity is complex, especially because what is “common” is not always obvious. Solidarity can be latent, persisting underneath our social reality, in our biology and chemistry and physical interdependence. Something needs to unearth and activate it, some experience or event which prompts us to recognise that our lives are inextricably connected.

If I think of all the poems over the years that have affected, inspired and haunted me the most, they share this characteristic – in them, I experience a voice (or a perspective or a world, it’s hard to say) that is utterly unique and strange, yet simultaneously intimately familiar. Reading these poems, I find myself identifying with the voice in them, while acknowledging how different it is to my own. All this happens within my body. Not mindlessly, because it often involves a kind of intellectual grappling, but it’s still fundamentally a physical experience. I find myself seduced into recognising what interests I share with the life in the poem, and pondering how this might translate to the world I experience.

At the Melbourne Fringe Festival last year, I was part of a performance event called “Quippings: Freaktastic”.8 Quippings is a regular9 night of poetry, stand-up, storytelling, music and performance by people who identify as disabled or Deaf. The name is a fusion of crip and queer, with the added apt connotation of the witty, cutting remark. Quippings nights are subversive by their very nature – disabled people being visible, owning their difference, laughing at the narrow-mindedness of many “able-bods”, and challenging stereotypes of all kinds – above all, speaking for ourselves.

credit: Hares & Hyenas Bookshop, 2014

credit: Hares & Hyenas Bookshop, 2014

In a draft of this essay, I wrote “speaking for themselves”. But my involvement in Quippings has involved that exact shift – from “them” to “us”. In a way, this was my “Spartacus” moment. I stepped forward, because something in me recognised a commonality, a connection. And this something has been nourished not only by my experience of being physically different, but through my experience of poetry. Looking back, I can see that my reading and writing life so far has been about connecting my own particular bodily experience with the bodies of others. I have been trying to articulate affinities, becomings,10 solidarity. Not to reduce difference, but to empower it, through resonance.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, around twenty percent of Australians have a disability.11 That’s four million of us. Another one in five have a long-term health condition that doesn’t happen to limit their everyday activities. I was surprised to discover this. Disability is still considered a marginal and rare experience, an unfortunate accident of birth or circumstance. In fact, it is incredibly common, arguably even universal, as we all at some point (at the beginning and often at the end of our lives) cannot take care of ourselves, our bodies emerging into coherence and receding back out of it.12 So, here we all are, together in Normal Land. To return to what Ian Dury said:

You may not comprehend my tale or understand
As I crawl past your window give me lucky looks
You can read my body but you’ll never read my books

Yet, even though these “books” of physical difference can be hard to comprehend or understand, I think they are there for the reading. It just takes attention and a commitment to move beyond the familiar, towards the poetry of our bodies. I hope, over the course of the next few weeks, that’s where we’ll go.

Next week, medical tourism and poetry tourism.

_________________________________

1 This is Spinal Tap. Dir. Rob Reiner. Embassy Pictures, 1984. Film.

2 Ian Dury. “Spasticus (Autisticus)” Lord Upminster. Polydor, 1981. CD.

3 16 Songs Banned by the BBC”. BBC. n.d. Web. 2 March 2015.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/5R152hTbVPQdYjn29q5jt4/16-songs-banned-by-the-bbc

4 Spartacus. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Universal International, 1960. Film.

5    Davis, Lennard J. Bending over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism, and Other Difficult Positions. New York: New York University Press, 2002. Print.

6 Marfan Syndrome is a disorder of connective tissue affecting the production and operation of fibrillin in various parts of the body – heart, eyes, joints, etc. It affects each person to varying degrees.

7 The Macquarie Concise Dictionary. Sydney: Macquarie University, 2001. Print.

8 For an edited promo version of the show, see here – https://vimeo.com/108627502

9    Actually, “irregular” would be a better descriptor, in the sense of how often it happens, but also in the sense of the non-normative identifications of the performers.

10 Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print.

11 “Disability Prevalence”. Australian Bureau of Statistics. ABS, 2 May 2011. Web. 3 March 2015.

12 Shildrick, Margrit. Embodying the Monster: Encounters with the Vulnerable Self. London: SAGE Publications, 2002. Print.

March 4, 2015 / Southerly

Next Southerly Blogger – Andy Jackson!

A massive thank you to Sunil Badami for his excellent posts.

This month, our blogger is Andy Jackson. His bio is below:

Andy Jackson’s collection, Among the Regulars (papertiger 2010) was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize and Highly Commended in the Anne Elder Award. He won the 2013 Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize with the thin bridge, which has recently been published. In 2010, he was an Asialink Resident at the University of Madras, Chennai, India, where he wrote poems exploring medical tourism, which resulted in the collection Immune Systems (Transit Lounge 2015). Andy has performed at literary events and arts festivals in Australia, India, USA and Ireland, and has run creative writing workshops since 2011. He writes about the poetry of unusual bodies at amongtheregulars.wordpress.com

aj coburg portrait

March 3, 2015 / Southerly

Who is She? And Why Does It Matter?


By Sunil Badami

Echoing my reflections on writing above, Ferrante says she’s ‘a storyteller. I’ve always been more interested in storytelling than in writing. Even today, Italy has a weak narrative tradition. Beautiful, magnificent, very carefully crafted pages abound, but not the flow of storytelling that despite its density manages to sweep you away.’[i]

While some like Rachel Donadio, suggest that it ‘veers into potboiler territory’[ii], or others, like Paolo di Paolo, that it has the soapy air of a melodrama like A Place in the Sun,[iii] I’m with Melinda Harvey, who says that ‘in many ways these are old-fashioned novels’ which don’t even acknowledge the textual or narrative experiments of modernism or postmodernism, breaking rules of writing (such as elegant sentences, concision not repetition) taught in creative writing classes.

Indeed, with all their deus-ex-machinery and incredible coincidences, their often melodramatic denouements and sometimes utilitarian language, couldn’t many great, pre-modernist 19th Century classics be criticised in the same way?

But as Harvey notes, what this does is speed reading back up again after a century of speed limits imposed on it by various technical difficulties, making ‘literary fiction, thanks to Ferrante, [like] other art we like consuming, such as quality cable TV series.’[iv] I read all 1200 pages so far in a frenetic, feverish week.

And Ferrante’s achievement goes beyond readability (accelerated by the short, often two page chapters). You might remember in my first post, I quoted Salman Rushdie talking about how

‘the real risks of any artist are taken in the work, in pushing the work to the limits of what is possible, in the attempt to increase the sum of what it is possible to think. Books become good when they go to this edge and risk falling over it—when they endanger the artist by reason of what he has, or has not, artistically dared.’[v]

For many writers, this means technical risks, structurally or narratively or linguistically. But for Ferrante, they’re emotional risks: writing to the limits of language to describe feelings and thoughts we often cannot, or cannot admit, the experiences, Ferrante says, ‘that are difficult to use, that are elusive, embarrassing, at times unsayable, because they belong to us so intimately. I am in favour of stories that are fed by these kinds of experience.’[vi]

Despite the prose’s relative plainness, directness and relentless energy, often with little extraneous physical description (rooms pronounced dirty or bare, people only described by blonde or red hair), the narrative is saturated in sensual, visceral, tactile richness, experience not only expressed physically, in the constant violence or threat of violence, or in a world, Lénu recalls:

‘in which children and adults were often wounded, blood flowed from the wounds, they festered, and sometimes people died… our world was like that, full of words that killed: croup, tetanus, typhus, gas, war, lathe, rubble, work, bombardment, bomb, tuberculosis, infection. With these words and those years I bring back the many fears that accompanied me all my life’[vii]

but in the way Ferrante merges the internal with the external. On the threshold of womanhood, Lila has her first episode of ‘dissolving margins’ in which ‘the outlines of people and things suddenly dissolved, disappeared… when she was abruptly struck by that sensation, she was frightened and kept it to herself, still unable to name it.’[viii]

And this is exemplified by her unstinting depictions of sex, in which desire becomes ‘a drop of rain in a spiderweb.’[ix] Whatever the conjecture over her identity, like many readers, particularly women, she writes about sex in a way many men—myself included—cannot: ‘the stuff that men don’t want to hear and women know but are afraid to say.’[x] (have a look at the ratio of men to women in The Literary Review’s Bad Sex Awards, and you’ll see what I mean).

‘I was overwhelmed by a need for pleasure so demanding and so egocentric that it cancelled out not only the entire world of sensation but also his body, in my eyes old, and the labels by which he could be classified—father, railway worker-poet-journalist—he was aware of it and penetrated me. I felt that he did it delicately at first, then with a clear and decisive thrust that caused a rip in my stomach, a stab of pain immediately erased by a rhythmic oscillation, a sliding, a thrusting, an emptying and filling me with jolts of eager desire. Until suddenly he withdrew, turned over on his back on the sand and emitted a sort of strangled roar.’[xi]

More than this, it’s the way Ferrante writes of the love and jealousy, resentment and sacrifice, competition and loyalty of female friendship—something I can only imagine because like many men my age I don’t have a single friend of that intensity, and which my wife, who should know because she does, says is the most convincing depiction of it she’s read—that suggests Ferrante’s gender, as if that really matters.

As Ferrante acknowledged, of all the characters in her books, Lila and Lénu both best capture her: ‘Not in the specific events of their lives, nor in their concreteness as people with a destiny, but in the movement that characterizes their relationship, in the self-discipline of the one that continuously and brusquely shatters when it runs up against the unruly imagination of the other.’[xii]

Their almost claustrophobic relationship is almost a psychic refraction of the id, represented by Lila (impulsive, violent, angry, passionate, destructive, entirely devoted to itself, if not entirely selfish, contradictory, often incomprehensible) and the ego, personified by Lénu (socialised, obedient, diligent, effacing, logical, dependently narcissistic).

Although Lénu feels as if Lila is a ‘shadow that goaded me, depressed me, filled me with pride, deflated me,’[xiii] their relationship is constantly changing as they change: ‘there was no way to feel that things were settled; every fixed point of our relationship sooner or later turned out to be provisional.’[xiv]

Everyone in the book is complicated, contradictory, sometimes incomprehensible, especially Lila, ‘terrible, dazzling, too much for anyone’ is unpredictable, destructive, inscrutable, tender, violent, brave, foolish, proud. All of them face morally ambiguous moral decisions to survive, if not succeed. Society outside the neighbourhood and circumstances beyond their control shape them as much as their desires, their regrets, their follies and delusions. In her acute, fearless observations—refracted through Lénu and Lila’s own thoughts and confessions—about sex, life, love, of fears and frustrations, about parents, family, children, friends, we can sometimes be shocked to see our own secret feelings exposed.

IMAGE 501

Just because it is an excellent—and I’d even go so far as to say great—book (and I mean the entire work so far, not just each constituent part), doesn’t mean it doesn’t have flaws. Some might find the way Ferrante evokes the terrors of childhood and the hysteria of adolescence overwrought; the lack of clear villains and even less apparent heroes frustrating; the characters occasionally flummoxing or perplexing or enraging. Although the story is told by Lénu, her doubts and self-loathing and endless dissection of every moment and unsaid word can be frustrating, even as it perfectly captures her perspective at each age, from the terrors of childhood to the confusion of adolescence to the joys and ennui of parenthood.

But eventually, it’s as if you know these people better than people you actually know, and their lives become a part of yours. After all, as Lila points out, ‘each of us narrates our life as it suits us.’[xv]

I’ve often thought that if you could distil the difference between good art and bad art, it would come down to what each aims to achieve, and the way it’s presented. Not just the craft: after all, who would prefer Celine Dion’s hysterically kitsch melismatics in comparison to Billie Holliday’s tortured wail? Art, of course, transcends craft.

But what a lot of bad art does is pretend to offer profound answers to complicated problems, asserting that it’s addressing the world and everything in it, when on closer scrutiny, it’s usually only about the artist themselves. Tracy Emin’s tent, the plaque explaining will tell you (if it can), is about “alienation” or whatever—but it’s really just about Tracy Emin.

Rather than speaking to us, such bad art talks at us—or worse, over us to the critics it thinks it’s addressing—proclaiming its importance in the catalogue notes, reminding us what it’s about, rather than letting us find out for ourselves.

But great art only offers us simple (albeit troubling) questions about us, our lives, our world, by making someone else, somewhere else, doing something else, often as far away from us and our experience, ask those very same questions, facing those very same heartaches. Yet we don’t need to know a thing about the author to be affected or moved or inspired by it.

Yet as David Donaldson pointed out in his excellent essay on anonymity, ‘ironically, the fascination with uncovering the author often leads to a stronger focus on biography than would have otherwise been the case.’[xvi]

That’s certainly been the case with Ferrante, who, as interest in her work—and in her—has exploded in the last few months since the publication of the third book in the series, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay last year, has submitted to email interviews with a number of publications (including The New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, Entertainment Weekly and Vogue), it’s being trumpeted, her first ever face to face interview for forthcoming Spring issue of The Paris Review (although Slate reports that it’s with her publishers, asking questions provided by The Paris Review).

It’s interesting, too, that the reasons Carmen and Helen D gave for their impostures (that of the identity of the author being more important than the work) are the same that Ferrante does for her absence, that of the author’s personality, or “aura” in which the media’s ‘obsessive demand for self-promotion’ means that it ‘simply can’t discuss an artwork unless it can point to some protagonist behind it,’ which results in the book counting less than ‘the aura of its author’, the media ‘invent[ing] the author the writer ends up selling not only his work but also himself, his image.’[xvii]

It’s led to criticism, especially in Italy, with Paolo di Paolo arguing that ‘more than in her books, Ferrante’s strength [in comparison to the neglect of other Italian writers abroad] lies in her not being here, her huge distance from everything,’ and that ‘you can remain secluded without becoming a ghost [producing] literature that resembles software that produces stories, or the plot of an impeccably produced but soulless TV series.’[xviii]

Or Frederika Randall, who like di Paolo, not only contends that Ferrante’s pseudonymity is ‘an ingenious business proposition’ but panders to stereotypes of Italy and Italians to those outside Italy (especially in America) ‘who know little of Italy but have a certain curiosity about [the] country. [Like] an agreeable Swedish noir… a vivid atmosphere, perfect for a TV series: the Naples of the lower class and criminals, vaguely familiar to those who know the Italian diaspora and love The Sopranos.’[xix]

Funny isn’t it, how their criticisms, which equate Ferrante’s novels to TV, demand to know why other, ‘better’, more intellectual Italian writers don’t receive the same acclaim; how those other, ‘better’ writers would be crucified for Ferrante’s failings, while she’s celebrated for them;[xx] of the implications of ‘what it means for Italy’s intellectual reputation abroad if even more competent critics [like Wood] are taken in by an obviously commercial product’[xxi] echo Franzen and Foster Wallace and Carey’s complaints about ‘cultural junk’[xxii] and how ‘novels by women and cultural minorities may in part represent a movement, in the face of a hyperkinetic televised reality’?[xxiii]

Don’t get me wrong: I feel the same way di Paolo or Randall do about what I call “mango novels”—‘those exotic-looking fruits of the post-colonial, NRI imagination that conjure up colourful mirages of magic-realist wonders or thrilling terrors in exotically faraway places’[xxiv] for mainly Western audiences—or the slightly askew, strangely un-multicultural depictions of Australia presented to the world in the work of expats like Carey, as though they, so far away, can know more about us than we do (even as their work reveals how much they can’t see from way over there).

It is interesting, though, that while di Paolo (somewhat spuriously) suggests that Ferrante is bogus because although some might say that ‘the game of pseudonyms’ are permissible in literature, none have lasted as long as Ferrante’s (although he doesn’t elaborate why this is a problem), neither he nor Randall criticise the male Wu Ming Foundation, who like Ferrante, call themselves ‘storytellers by every means necessary,’[xxv] whose self-reflexive historical novels are written with the pacy, page-turning energy of popular trade or genre fiction and also believe that ‘once the writer becomes a face that’s separate and alienated (in a literal sense), it’s a cannibalistic jumble: that face appears everywhere, almost always out of context. A photo is witness to my absence; it’s a banner of distance and solitude… I become a “character,” a stopgap used to quickly fill a page layout, an instrument that amplifies banality.[xxvi]

Indeed, if anything, it reiterates concerns by the ‘self-referential literary cliques’ Wu Ming abhor about the right of women to produce and be considered part of “high” culture in ways that I discussed in What’s My Name?—which Ferrante, via her fictional namesake, continually doubting herself and her work and her place in a social strata far higher than the one from which she’s come and spent so long trying to erase, speaking Italian rather than cursing in dialect, is more than aware of. At the first event for her book, an older man, well-known to many in the audience but not Lénu,

‘talked for a long time about the decline of publishing, which now looked more for money than for literary quality; then he moved on to the marketing collusion between critics and the cultural pages of the dailies; finally he focused on my book, first ironically, then, when he cited the slightly risqué pages, in an openly hostile tone.’[xxvii]

The Ferrante phenomenon—both literary and epistemological—offers the kind of rich (and often spirited, sometimes vitriolic) debate surrounding art, commerce, publishing, media construction, identity, authorial authority, reader reception and perception, identitarian and textual concerns that we in Australia have already experienced during our ‘greatest cultural identity crisis’[xxviii]. Criticisms of Helen D, for example, were based on identitarian concerns, and defences on textual ones, even as, for many, ‘the uniqueness of Wanda’s perspective… dissolves when [it] is read as the expression of a white man.’[xxix]

As Peter Shillingsburg suggested, ‘the agent of meaning, the reader’s sense of who it was that “did” the text, has a great deal to do with one’s enjoyment of or dismay with the text’[xxx], and reading the Neopolitan novels, the writer that springs to my mind is not whoever the “real” Ferrante might be but Karl Ove Knausgaard, whose autobiographically based six volume Min Kamp (My Struggle) series similarly seems to traduce and transcend the supposed borders between fact and fiction (coincidentally interviewed by Wood in the current issue of the Paris Review; in her recent New York Times interview, Ferrante says ‘writing has always been a great struggle for me’[xxxi]).

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Like Ferrante, Knausgaard writes to the very edge of the sayable, but unlike Ferrante, his work is saturated with seemingly relentless minutiae and long digressions. Even if subplots (such as Lila’s problem of dissolving margins, here wedding or her disappearance–not a spoiler, it opens the first book) stretch over hundreds of pages or two or more books, they eventually resound with a shock, and despite this, Ferrante dispenses with digressions, often focussing on one incident at a time (although returning or referring to it and its consequences later).

But most importantly, Knausgaard has signed his name to his work: part of the shame and regret he now says he feels about his “anti-literary” project. Ferrante, for her part, doesn’t think what she’s writing is anything but ‘literary.’

Is Knausgaard somehow braver for assigning his name to his work? I’m not sure it’s down to that. What’s interesting though, is how intrinsically identified Knausgaard was with his work—as Zeljka Marosevic alleges, his publisher’s marketing campaign was outstanding in its use of the author, plastering his face everywhere, all ‘making a virtue of his Nordic singularity in order to win over an English-speaking audience. They “othered” him, readers, in order to promote him.’[xxxii]

So what IF Ferrante isn’t who she says she is? What if she is, indeed a man? Or her Copperfieldesque fiction isn’t actually autobiographical? What if Lila—whoever she is or was—doesn’t or never really existed? Does it matter? For Lénu, her book, much more than her degree, gives her ‘a new identity,’ even if seeing it ‘in a window, among other novels that had just come out, [she feels] inside a mixture of pride and fear, a dart of pleasure that end[s] in anguish.’[xxxiii]

To be honest, I don’t really care (and I must admit I’m torn between wanting to read what she says in the Paris Review interview and averting my eyes: part of me feels something precious will be lost by seeing her face, the same way it is when the characters you love in a book you cherish appear on a movie screen). Besides, as we discussed earlier, isn’t the idea of a writer—or any idea—a kind of fiction anyway?

As the man often insinuated to be her, Starnone, points out (somewhat understandably snippily) ‘Mrs Ferrante is not the only one to have written about abandoned women, you know. Why are we not talking about the link between Starnone and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina?’[xxxiv]

Ferrante non sono io, indeed!

But as Jia Tolentino points out, what makes Ferrante so powerful is the way she turns “the” female experience (her quotations, as though it is a singular experience) into a human experience, not ‘presenting a way of living separate from identity politics. Rather, [Ferrante] reinvigorates their essence while providing a powerful way through… for what she has to present about human life writ large through the specific, asking uncomfortable questions about how we live, how we love, how we singe an existence in a deeply flawed world.’[xxxv]

As Aminatta Forna pointed out in this excellent piece about identity and authenticity in The Guardian, writers

‘try to reach beyond those things that divide us: culture, class, gender, race. Given the chance, we would resist classification. I have never met a writer who wishes to be described as a female writer, gay writer, black writer, Asian writer or African writer. We hyphenated writers complain about the privilege accorded to the white male writer, he who dominates the western canon and is the only one called simply “writer.”’[xxxvi]

Perhaps that’s why, like Ferrante, like Wu Ming, like Jhumpa Lahiri—who said in an open letter to Ferrante at the Rome International Literature Festival last June that ‘How wonderful it is that you are a writer able to communicate with the world through your words only, your literature only. If I had had the same courage, I would also have liked to pursue my literary career in the same way’[xxxvii]—I wish I’d had the courage to publish with the same absence, given the hyphen’s yoke. As Lénu reflects:

that book [had become] an object that contained me. Now I was there, exposed, and seeing myself caused a violent pounding in my chest. I felt that not only in my book but in novels in general there was something that truly agitated me, a bare and throbbing heart, the same that had burst out of my chest in that distant moment when Lila had proposed that we write a story together. It had fallen to me to do it seriously. But was that what I wanted? To write, to write with purpose, to write better than I had already? And to study the stories of the past and the present to understand how they worked, and to learn, learn everything about the world with the sole purpose of constructing living hearts, which no one would ever do better than me, not even Lila if she had had the opportunity?’[xxxviii]

My Brilliant Friend opens with a disappearance, but the Neopolitan Novels are defined by an absence that haunts them, both within and without. Despite my relative and still precious obscurity, I cannot choose the escape Ferrante has. Can I? Perhaps. For in the end, perhaps it’s not the name or the identity or even the writing that matters. As she herself says:

‘The most difficult achievement is the capacity to see oneself, to name oneself, to imagine oneself. If in daily life we use ideologies, common sense, religion, even literature itself to disguise our experiences and make them presentable, in fiction it’s possible to sweep away all the veils—in fact, perhaps, it’s a duty.’[xxxix]

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References:

Badami, Sunil, ‘Last Mango in Pondicherry,’ Meanjin Australasian Issue, Vol. 63, No. 2, 2004, 200–207.

Davies, Lizzie, ‘Who is the real Italian novelist writing as Elena Ferrante?’ The Guardian, 16 October 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/15/who-italian-novelist-elena-ferrante, accessed 18 February 2015.

Dickens, Charles, David Copperfield, Penguin Classics, London, 2007.

Di Paolo, Paolo, ‘Il caso Ferrante, il romanzo italiano secondo il New Yorker,’ (The case of Ferrante, the Italian novel according to the New Yorker), La Stampa, 13 October 2014. http://www.lastampa.it/2014/10/13/cultura/il-caso-ferrante-il-romanzo-italiano-secondo-il-new-yorker-k6z6crdyRB5A6Z4ycRUrIO/pagina.html, accessed 17 February 2015.

Donadio, Rachel, ‘Q and A: Elena Ferrante,’ The New York Times, 9 December 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/10/books/writing-has-always-been-a-great-struggle-for-me.html, accessed 17 February 2015.

Donadio, Rachel, ‘Writing Has Always Been a Great Struggle for Me,’ The New York Times, 9 December 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/10/books/writing-has-always-been-a-great-struggle-for-me.html, accessed 11 February 2015.

Donaldson, David, ‘The Artist is Not Present: Anonymity in Literature,’ The Wheeler Centre, 28 July 2014. http://www.wheelercentre.com/notes/f98bd93c7e1a, accessed 11 February 2015.

‘See Naples and die,’ The Economist, 5 October 2013. http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21587190-singular-voice-english-last-see-naples-and-die, accessed 11 February 2015.

Ferrante, Elena, My Brilliant Friend, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2012.

Ferrante, Elena, The Story of a New Name, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2013.

Ferrante, Elena, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2014.

Ferrante, Elena, quoted in ‘The Art of Fiction’, The Paris Review (forthcoming). http://www.theparisreview.org/issue-212-preview, accessed 17 February 2015.

Forna, Aminatta, ‘Aminatta Forna: don’t judge a book by its cover,’ The Guardian, 13 February 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/13/aminatta-forna-dont-judge-book-by-cover, accessed 15 February 2015.

Harvey, Melinda, ‘Being female in a man’s world in Naples,’ The Weekend Australian, 31 January 2015. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/being-female-in-the-mans-world-of-naples/story-fn9n8gph-1227202174188, accessed 20 February 2015.

Hughes, Evan, ‘Karl Ove Knausgaard Became a Literary Sensation By Exposing His Every Secret,’ The New Republic, 7 April 2014. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117245/karl-ove-knausgaard-interview-literary-star-struggles-regret, accessed 19 February 2015.

The Internet Archive. https://archive.org/index.php, accessed 21 February 2015.

Lerner, Ben, ‘Each cornflake,’ The London Review of Books, Vol. 36, No. 10, 22 May 2014. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n10/ben-lerner/each-cornflake, accessed 18 February 2015.

Marosevic, Zeljka, ‘Elena Ferrante: should writers reveal their real identities?’ Melville House Publishing Blog, 16 October 2014. http://www.mhpbooks.com/elena-ferrante-should-writers-reveal-their-real-identities/, accessed 19 February 2015.

Maxted, Anna, ‘A Pen Name is a Writer’s Best Friend,’ The Daily Telegraph, 15 July 2013. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10180200/JK-Rowling-is-right-a-pen-name-is-a-writers-best-friend.html, accessed 11 February 2015.

Nolan, Maggie, ‘In His Own Sweet Time: Carmen’s Coming Out,’ in Who’s Who: Hoaxes, Imposture and Identity Crises in Australian Literature, Australian Literary Studies, Vol. 21, No. 4, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 2004, 134–149.

O’Grady, Megan, ‘Elena Ferrante on the Origins of her Neopolitan Novels,’ Vogue Magazine, 19 August 2014. http://www.vogue.com/983355/elena-ferrante-neapolitan-novels-origin-those-who-leave-and-those-who-stay/, accessed 15 February 2015.

O’Rourke, Megan, ‘Elena Ferrante: The global literary sensation nobody knows,’ The Guardian, 1 November 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/31/elena-ferrante-literary-sensation-nobody-knows, accessed 11 February 2015.

Randall, Frederika, ‘Elena Ferrante è una genial iniziativa commercial,’ (Elena Ferrante is a brilliant business proposition), L’Internazionale, 2 January 2015. http://www.internazionale.it/opinione/frederika-randall/2015/01/02/un-paese-di-santi-poeti-e-complottisti, accessed 18 February 2015.

Rushdie, Salman. Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981–1991, Granta/Picador, London, 1992, 12

Schulman, Martha, ‘My Brilliant Friend: PW Talks with Elena Ferrante,’ 30 November 2012. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/interviews/article/54949-my-brilliant-friend-pw-talks-with-elena-ferrante.html, accessed 20 February 2015.

Tolstoy, Leo, Anna Karenina, The Political Messenger, Moscow, 1873–1877.

Valby, Karen, ‘Who is Elena Ferrante? An interview with the mysterious Italian author,’ Entertainment Weekly, 5 September 2014. http://www.ew.com/article/2014/09/05/elena-ferrante-italian-author-interview, accessed 15 February 2015.

Waldman, Katy, ‘How The Paris Review Snagged the First-Ever In-Person Interview With Elena Ferrante,’ Slate, 4 February 2015. http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/02/04/the_paris_review_interviews_elena_ferrante_how_the_literary_magazine_snagged.html, accessed 20 February 2015.

Wood, James, ‘Women on the Verge: The fiction of Elena Ferrante, The New Yorker, 21 January 2013. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/01/21/women-on-the-verge, accessed

Wu Ming, quoted in Alessandro Bertante et al, ‘The Perfect Storm, or rather: The Monster Interview,’ 2007. http://www.manituana.com/documenti/0/8246/EN, accessed 11 February 2015.

Citations:

[i] Ferrante, Elena, quoted in Rachel Donadio, ‘Writing Has Always Been a Great Struggle for Me,’ The New York Times, 9 December 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/10/books/writing-has-always-been-a-great-struggle-for-me.html, accessed 11 February 2015.
[ii] Donadio, Rachel, ‘Elena Ferrante, Author of Naples Novels, Stays Mysterious,’ The New York Times Magazine, 9 December 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/10/books/elena-ferrante-author-of-naples-novels-stays-mysterious.html, accessed 15 February 2015.
[iii] Di Paolo, Paolo, ‘Il caso Ferrante, il romanzo italiano secondo il New Yorker,’ (The case of Ferrante, the Italian novel according to the New Yorker), La Stampa, 13 October 2014. http://www.lastampa.it/2014/10/13/cultura/il-caso-ferrante-il-romanzo-italiano-secondo-il-new-yorker-k6z6crdyRB5A6Z4ycRUrIO/pagina.html, accessed 17 February 2015.
[iv] Harvey, Melinda, ‘Being female in a man’s world in Naples,’ The Weekend Australian, 31 January 2015. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/being-female-in-the-mans-world-of-naples/story-fn9n8gph-1227202174188, accessed 20 February 2015.
[v] Rushdie, Salman. Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981–1991, Granta/Picador, London, 1992, 12.
[vi] Ferrante, Elena, quoted in Karen Valby, ‘Who is Elena Ferrante? An interview with the mysterious Italian author,’ Entertainment Weekly, 5 September 2014. http://www.ew.com/article/2014/09/05/elena-ferrante-italian-author-interview, accessed 15 February 2015.
[vii] Ferrante, Elena, My Brilliant Friend, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2012, 31–32.
[viii] Ferrante, Elena, My Brilliant Friend, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2012, 88.
[ix] Ferrante, Elena, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2013, 370.
[x] Ferrante, Elena, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2013, 124.
[xi] Ferrante, Elena, The Story of a New Name, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2013, 182.
[xii] Ferrante, Elena, quoted in Rachel Donadio, ‘Q and A: Elena Ferrante,’ The New York Times, 9 December 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/10/books/writing-has-always-been-a-great-struggle-for-me.html, accessed 17 February 2015.
[xiii] Randall, Frederika, ‘Elena Ferrante è una genial iniziativa commercial,’ (Elena Ferrante is a brilliant business proposition), L’Internazionale, 2 January 2015. http://www.internazionale.it/opinione/frederika-randall/2015/01/02/un-paese-di-santi-poeti-e-complottisti, accessed 18 February 2015.
[xiv] Ferrante, Elena, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2014, 221.
[xv] Ferrante, Elena, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2014, 232.
[xvi] Donaldson, David, ‘The Artist is Not Present: Anonymity in Literature,’ The Wheeler Centre, 28 July 2014. http://www.wheelercentre.com/notes/f98bd93c7e1a, accessed 11 February 2015.
[xvii] Ferrante, Elena, quoted in ‘The Art of Fiction’, The Paris Review (forthcoming). http://www.theparisreview.org/issue-212-preview, accessed 17 February 2015.
[xviii] Di Paolo, Paolo, ‘Il caso Ferrante, il romanzo italiano secondo il New Yorker,’ (The case of Ferrante, the Italian novel according to the New Yorker), La Stampa, 13 October 2014. http://www.lastampa.it/2014/10/13/cultura/il-caso-ferrante-il-romanzo-italiano-secondo-il-new-yorker-k6z6crdyRB5A6Z4ycRUrIO/pagina.html, accessed 17 February 2015.
[xix] Ferrante, Elena, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2014, 124.
[xx] Di Paolo, Paolo, ‘Il caso Ferrante, il romanzo italiano secondo il New Yorker,’ (The case of Ferrante, the Italian novel according to the New Yorker), La Stampa, 13 October 2014. http://www.lastampa.it/2014/10/13/cultura/il-caso-ferrante-il-romanzo-italiano-secondo-il-new-yorker-k6z6crdyRB5A6Z4ycRUrIO/pagina.html, accessed 17 February 2015.
[xxi] Randall, Frederika, ‘Elena Ferrante è una genial iniziativa commercial,’ (Elena Ferrante is a brilliant business proposition), L’Internazionale, 2 January 2015. http://www.internazionale.it/opinione/frederika-randall/2015/01/02/un-paese-di-santi-poeti-e-complottisti, accessed 18 February 2015.
[xxii] Carey, Peter, Closing Address, Sydney Writers’ Festival, 1 May 2010, The Monthly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5AupAjNDNY, accessed 18 February 2015.
[xxiii] Franzen, Jonathon, ‘Perchance to Dream: In the Age of Images, A Reason to Write Novels’, Harper’s Magazine, April 1996, 47-48.
[xxiv] Badami, Sunil, ‘Last Mango in Pondicherry,’ Meanjin Australasian Issue, Vol. 63, No. 2, 2004, 200.
[xxv] Wu Ming, quoted in Alessandro Bertante et al, ‘The Perfect Storm, or rather: The Monster Interview,’ 2007. http://www.manituana.com/documenti/0/8246/EN, accessed 11 February 2015.
[xxvi] Wu Ming, quoted in Alessandro Bertante et al, ‘The Perfect Storm, or rather: The Monster Interview,’ 2007. http://www.manituana.com/documenti/0/8246/EN, accessed 11 February 2015.
[xxvii] Ferrante, Elena, The Story of a New Name, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2013, 297–298.
[xxviii] Guilliatt, Richard. ‘Black, white & grey all over’. The Sydney Morning Herald, 10April 1997, p 13.
[xxix] Nolan, Maggie, ‘In His Own Sweet Time: Carmen’s Coming Out,’ in Who’s Who: Hoaxes, Imposture and Identity Crises in Australian Literature, Australian Literary Studies, Vol. 21, No. 4, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 2004, 142.
[xxx] Shillingsburg, Peter L., Resisting Texts: Authority and Submission in Constructions of Meaning, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor MI, 1997, 160–162.
[xxxi] Ferrante, Elena, quoted in Rachel Donadio, ‘Writing Has Always Been a Great Struggle for Me,’ The New York Times, 9 December 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/10/books/writing-has-always-been-a-great-struggle-for-me.html, accessed 11 February 2015.
[xxxii] Marosevic, Zeljka, ‘Elena Ferrante: should writers reveal their real identities?’ Melville House Publishing Blog, 16 October 2014. http://www.mhpbooks.com/elena-ferrante-should-writers-reveal-their-real-identities/, accessed 19 February 2015.
[xxxiii] Ferrante, Elena, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2014, 47.
[xxxiv] Starnone, Dominico, quoted in Lizzie Davies, ‘Who is the real Italian novelist writing as Elena Ferrante?’ The Guardian, 16 October 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/15/who-italian-novelist-elena-ferrante, accessed 18 February 2015.
[xxxv] Tolentino, Jia, ‘The Promise in Elena Ferrante,’ Jezebel, 29 December 2014. http://jezebel.com/the-promise-in-elena-ferrante-1675334850, accessed 18 February 2015.
[xxxvi] Forna, Aminatta, ‘Aminatta Forna: don’t judge a book by its cover,’ The Guardian, 13 February 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/13/aminatta-forna-dont-judge-book-by-cover, accessed 15 February 2015.
[xxxvii] Lahiri, Jumpa, quoted in Lizzie Davies, ‘Who is the real Italian novelist writing as Elena Ferrante?’ The Guardian, 16 October 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/15/who-italian-novelist-elena-ferrante, accessed 18 February 2015.
[xxxviii] Ferrante, Elena, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2014, 47–48.
[xxxix] Ferrante, Elena, quoted in Megan O’Grady, ‘Elena Ferrante on the Origins of her Neopolitan Novels,’ Vogue Magazine, 19 August 2014. http://www.vogue.com/983355/elena-ferrante-neapolitan-novels-origin-those-who-leave-and-those-who-stay/, accessed 15 February 2015.

Poto credits:

Image 501: Wikipedia, Young women of Naples in swimsuit, Italy 1948 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midriff#mediaviewer/File:Young_women_of_Naples_in_swimsuit,_Italy_1948.jpg
Image 502: © Selenia Morgillo, 2013 (Creative Commons) http://www.flickr.com/photos/seleniamorgillo/2197261699/in/set-72157603563461426/
Image 503: Photo taken by Sunil Badami in Italy, 2005
March 2, 2015 / Southerly

What is the new TV?

by Sunil Badami

Despite many (mainly white male) writers’ concerns about the effect of television on “serious culture” (which I discussed here) many others have suggested that TV is the new novel (as Salman Rushdie first did, albeit after writing the screenplay for an aborted miniseries of Midnight’s Children).

Even Jonathon Franzen, whom, as I mentioned in a couple of posts ago, blamed the state of the contemporary fiction on television, acknowledged in a recent interview that ‘TV [has] redeemed itself by becoming more like the novel, which is to say: interested in sustained, morally complex narrative that is compelling and enjoyable.’[i]

There’s no doubt, especially looking back at the phenomenon of Dickens’s serialisations, where the Boston piers would be crowded with people eagerly awaiting the magazine carrying the latest instalment of David Copperfield into port,[ii] that novels were TV before TV, offering the same sustained, morally complex, compelling, enjoyable narrative.

(indeed, sometimes I feel as if the box sets of all the shows I HAVE to watch—Breaking Bad, True Detective, Borgen, The Sopranos and more—are like all those books piled up reproachfully on my bedside table)

And there’s no doubt, despite the golden age of 20th Century fiction, between the First World War and the Vietnam War—coincidentally between the popularisation of film and before the popularisation of TV—where books were usually no more than 250 pages long (I once heard, though I can’t tell you where, that it was because most fiction bestsellers in the UK were sold to workingmen’s libraries and mechanics’ schools, which meant that they had to be read within a standard fortnightly borrowing period, after work), that books are getting longer and longer.

But you could hardly describe the first novels—Don Quixote (Vol. 1, 456 pages; 1056 in the Penguin Classics edition); Tom Jones (Vol. 1 of 8, 214; 1024 in Penguin Classics); Clarissa (Vols. 1-4 of 8, 612; 1536 in Penguin Classics)—as concise by comparison to even Norman Mailer’s most verbiose efforts, much less the big multi-volume doorstoppers of the 19th Century classical canon like Les Miserables, Bleak House or War & Peace.

Some, like Sophie Cunningham, suggest this is because writers write on computers the way the prolix Jack Kerouac used to type on a roll of butchers’ paper to avoid losing his train of thought [iii] (which is why many writers often write their first draft by hand, then edit as they type their pages up). Others, like Robert McCrum, because of the decline of editing at major houses.[iv]

And some, like Franzen or Mark Lawson, have criticised the move to historical fiction away from contemporary social-realist fiction as trying to appropriate the critical—and literal—weight of the classical 19th Century canon, setting stories during that time (or the past in general) because of a timidity or unwillingness to address complex and fast-changing realities and issues of the present or because ‘the current easiness of divorce, infidelity and serial monogamy would render useless the plots of many of literature’s greatest novels… in a society in which, at least in its nominally Christian sectors, guilt and shame have largely been abolished, fiction loses some of its best petrol.’[v]

(what to make, then, of recent film adaptations of Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary, or the recent success of miniseries The Affair?)

IMAGE 401

Still, what TV as the novel—and the novel as TV—share, in addition to these sustained narratives, are two things.

Firstly, they share concise episodes of a specific length: on TV, they might be an hour; and in most 19th Century serialisations, short chapters that cover a particular moment or plot development, each ending on a cliff hanger, compelling us to want more.

In the case of an epically long novel like Anna Karenina, they’re especially short, running only a couple of pages or so. Indeed, what makes Anna Karenina so compulsively readable—apart from Tolstoy’s amazing ability to move between characters’ consciousnesses within the same scene, writing solely in the first person or the subjective third, something many (including me) find so difficult today—is that because the chapters are so short, you can’t help but read the next one. And the next one. And the next…

But most importantly, they’re free of the impenetrable, incomprehensible language so beloved of modernists like James Joyce or pseuds like Will Self. The language is as thin a meniscus between reader and character as possible, speeding us along the narrative, so that we can become fully immersed, not only in the characters’ stories, or their lives, but themselves.

Indeed, because the details are often so perfunctory—at least by comparison to so many modern novels which revel in such florid description–there’s even more space to imagine, and to empathise. I remember interviewing the late Michael Cox, author of a very good 19th Century detective novel, The Meaning of Night. The editor of several anthologies and encyclopaedias of Victorian writing at Oxford University Press, he let me in on a secret about why so much historical fiction failed to effectively evoke a period: they had too much physical description, particularly when characters describe their surroundings to each other. ‘It’s nonsense,’ he told me. ‘We don’t have to describe McDonalds to each other.’[vi]

And if you re-read contemporaneous fiction—say, for example, Dickens, held up as a paragon of the way history might tell us the facts about a place or period but how fiction helps us understand it—how often do you read exhaustive descriptions of all the furniture in a room, and how it was made, and where? Too often, misreading the idea of “show, don’t tell,” writers show us everything in the room but tell us nothing about what’s happening in their characters’ hearts. Much less anything at all: stuck looking around the room, nothing else much happens.

For me, literature is driven by four engines: one qualitative and subjective, the other three quantitative. The qualitative aspect is tone: you either like the voice telling the story, and the style, or you don’t (which is why I can’t read those clever young men novels now). The other three—plot, language and character—are quantitative, and although you can’t ever say criticism is entirely objective, these are not only indicators of quality, but of what kind of book you’re reading.

Although Bryce Courtenay famously—and foolishly—once said that he could ‘unequivocably write [Carey’s] kind of stuff,’[vii] much so-called “popular” trade or genre fiction, like Courtenay’s, fantasy or airport thriller novels, are driven primarily by plot. Things are always happening: planes are crashing, cars are being chased, bombs are being defused or going off. Nobody ever talks: they grin—as in “I’ll see you,” Ridge grinned.

Yet for all their contortions, or the height of the concept (dinosaurs being reanimated, a town trapped by a dome, or a plague of zombies, whatever), their narratives are usually riddled with clichés—although you might find yourself disgusted or dismayed by the ending, you’re rarely surprised. The hero gets the girl, the villain their just desserts, the story moving along well-rutted tracks to the inevitable denouement (usually loud, frenetic, and saved at the very last moment). The characters are tropes of heroism or stoicism or villainy or expertise or sexuality; the language, as Geordie Williamson put it, ‘like a McDonald’s menu: fat and sugar are the point; the food merely the delivery mechanism’:[viii] simplistic, kinetic, rarely revealing more than action.

But the kind of difficult literary fiction that Courtenay resents, Franzen finds difficult and many, such as Hanif Kureishi argue, is continually pumped out by university writing courses, is often just as unreadable, even though they’re defined by language, in which, creative writing students, as Kureishi puts it, ‘worry about the writing and the prose and you think: “Fuck the prose, no one’s going to read your book for the writing, all they want to do is find out what happens in the story next… they can write sentences but they don’t know how to make a story go from there all the way to the end without people dying of boredom in between.”[ix]

In such novels, there’s often little or no plot, and the characters are symbols rather than people, often doing or saying little, caught up in their own solipsistic self-reflections; when they do speak, their utterances are stilted, stultifying, set-pieces or speeches rather than dialogue, buried under the weight of such weighty sentences, which say more about the author than them, or us.

For me, the best novels aren’t defined by plot, even if a lot seems to happen. Nor are they defined by language either. In these great novels, the meniscus-thin language, the speeding narrative in its own little world until something we could have never imagined, much less said, rises up off the page and inside us, in which the author and his style disappears.

IMAGE 402

Indeed, other than perhaps the opening lines, what specific sentences can you remember or quote from, say, A Tale of Two Cities or Anna Karenina? Yes, I do remember Rodolphe’s famous reflection from Madame Bovary about language being ‘a tin kettle upon which we tap out crude rhythms for bears to dance to while all the while we wish to make music that would move the stars to pity.’[x] But if you re-read those canonical 19th Century novels—the convoluted, subordinated clause syntax and occasionally fantastical, deux-ex-machinical coincidences aside—what’s striking is how simple the prose is, serving only to tell the characters’ stories.

As Akhil Sharma, who reduced a 7000 page autobiographically based manuscript into a 224 page book, Family Life (one of my favourites last year), acknowledged in a New Yorker essay, after ‘comparing fictional reality to factual ­reality and finding the former wan,’ and trying to find a way to tell the story in under 7000 pages, he discovered, having re-read Chekhov, that

‘somehow, in fiction, sound, texture and smell are stickier, lingering more than visual details … I began rewriting the book with these constraints, and found that … without [them], the reader moves through the narrative rapidly and so asks different questions about why time is collapsed or not collapsed, or why a scene is dramatised or summarised.’[xi]

Such questions of these comparisons between factual and fictional reality abound in Elena Ferrante’s acclaimed Neopolitan tetralogy. ‘The literary sensation nobody knows,’ according to The Guardian;[xii] ‘maybe the best contemporary novelist you’ve never heard of’ according to The Economist,[xiii] although if you Google her name now, you’ll discover over half a million results.

James Wood, who first revealed her and her work to the English-speaking world in 2013 (her translator is Ann Goldstein, an editor at the New Yorker, for whom Wood reviews), puts her name between quotation marks; her identity has been the cause of much speculation in Italy, with some suggesting “Elena Ferrante” is a collective like Wu Ming (whom I mentioned in a previous post) or even a man (Italian novelist Domenico Starnone).

The irony! That writers like George Eliot or Henry Handel Richardson had to resort to men’s names for their work to be taken seriously – and yet, as Ferrante (whose name is agreed to be a pseudonym) signs her work with a woman’s name, it must be assumed to be a male author, pulling a kind of Italian Koolmartrie job.

Originally an entire work split into four parts, Ferrante’s books—three of which, My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, have so far been translated into English—most resemble both those big, classic, serialised novels, offering complex, tangled family trees (so much so each book includes a comprehensive cast of characters at the beginning, although by the end of the first book, the characters are so indelible you don’t need them); equally complex, tangled and over-arching plots, riddled with digressions and incidents; and breathtaking cliffhangers: each chapter ends on one, and so does each book, with the first book ending with such a jaw-dropping anti-climax in the middle of a scene you have to reach for the next.

Ostensibly, it’s the story of two talented, intelligent girls growing up in the same violent Naples slum: impulsive, dangerous, exciting, Lila and meeker, more diligent, less confident Lénu (whose real name is Elena, like the author’s). Though more naturally brilliant than anyone in their neighbourhood, Lila doesn’t progress past primary school because her parents won’t pay the fees; Lénu, the narrator, ends up going to university and writing a controversial book based on their childhood.

Despite trying to resist or escape the fate that befalls the older women around them, from their own defeated mothers to the mad woman upstairs—

‘they were nervous, they were acquiescent. They were silent, with tight lips and stooping shoulders, or they yelled terrible insults at the children who harassed them… they had been consumed by the bodies of husbands, fathers, brothers, whom they ultimately came to resemble… when did that transformation begin? With housework? With pregnancies? With beatings?’[xiv]

—they both end up, in each their own way, ‘enclosed in a glass container’ by marriage, ‘like a sailboat sailing with sails unfurled in an inaccessible place, without the sea,’[xv] Lila entrapped by brutality, Lénu by privilege, to men they do not really love; one by circumstance and sometimes misplaced rage; the other by aspiration and subdued anger.

As I’ve mentioned, too often novels by women about female lives and relationships are simply labelled “kitchen sink dramas” or “chick lit.” But Ferrante’s work, while deeply interested to breaking point in female experience, perspective and emotion, goes far beyond this, taking in a sweep of Italian post-war history—the reconstruction after the war, the on-going battles between the Communists and the Fascists, the insidious pervasiveness of the Camorra; of class, of bourgeois socialism, of sexism, of the differences between writing and doing—history, like their squalid, violent neighbourhood, becomes real, rather than theoretical, as much a part of what happens to them as their own personal struggles.

References:

Badami, Sunil, ‘Family life in all its frailties and force,’ The Australian, 14 June 2014.

Cervantes, Miguel, The Adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha, Frederick Wearne & Co, New York, 1800.

Cox, Michael, The Meaning of Night, John Murray, London, 2006.

Cox, Michael, quoted in Sunil Badami, ‘Restless vision,’ The Australian, October 7–8, 2006.

Cunningham, Sophie, ‘Sophie Cunningham: is writing evolving?’, Crikey, 25 November 2010. http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/11/25/sophie-cunningham-is-writing-evolving/?wpmp_switcher=mobile, accessed 15 February 2015.

Davies, Lizzie, ‘Who is the real Italian novelist writing as Elena Ferrante?’ The Guardian, 16 October 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/15/who-italian-novelist-elena-ferrante, accessed 18 February 2015.

Dickens, Charles, A Tale of Two Cities, Barnes and Noble Classics, New York, 2003.

Dickens, Charles, David Copperfield, Penguin Classics, London, 2007.

Dickens, Charles, Bleak House, Hablot Knight Browne, London, 1852-1853.

Di Paolo, Paolo, ‘Il caso Ferrante, il romanzo italiano secondo il New Yorker,’ (The case of Ferrante, the Italian novel according to the New Yorker), La Stampa, 13 October 2014. http://www.lastampa.it/2014/10/13/cultura/il-caso-ferrante-il-romanzo-italiano-secondo-il-new-yorker-k6z6crdyRB5A6Z4ycRUrIO/pagina.html, accessed 17 February 2015.

Ferrante, Elena, My Brilliant Friend, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2012.

Ferrante, Elena, The Story of a New Name, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2013.

Ferrante, Elena, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2014.

Ferrante, Elena, quoted in ‘The Art of Fiction’, The Paris Review (forthcoming). http://www.theparisreview.org/issue-212-preview, accessed 17 February 2015.

Fielding, Henry, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (in Six Volumes), A. Millar, London, 1749.

Flaubert, Gustave, Madame Bovary, Hackett Publishing, Indianopolis, IN, 2009 (1857).

Franzen, Jonathon, quoted in Helena de Bertodano, ‘Jonathan Franzen interview,’ The Telegraph, 29 September 2010. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/authorinterviews/8022791/Jonathan-Franzen-interview.html, accessed 14 February 2015.

Franzen, Jonathon, quoted in Susan Lerner, ‘A Conversation with Jonathon Franzen,’ Booth Magazine, 13 February 2015. http://booth.butler.edu/2015/02/13/a-conversation-with-jonathan-franzen/, accessed 13 February 2015.

Hugo, Victor, Les Misèrables, Dodd, Mead, New York, 1900 (1862).

The Internet Archive. https://archive.org/index.php, accessed 21 February 2015.

McCrum, Robert, ‘Why modern novelists need to watch their weight,’ The Observer, 19 February 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/feb/19/novels-size-robert-mccrum, accessed 17 February 2015.

Miller, Sandra A., ‘When Charles Dickens Came to Boston,’ The Boston Globe Magazine, 18 March 2012. http://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2012/03/17/when-charles-dickens-came-boston/LwCtpA83DGQWqFfVEoyfZL/story.html, accessed 15 February 2015.

Richardson, Samuel, Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded, Russell & Allen, Manchester, 1811.

Rushdie, Salman, quoted in Vanessa Thorpe, ‘Salman Rushdie says TV dramas comparable to novels,’ The Observer, 12 June 2011.

Rushdie, Salman, Midnight’s Children, Vintage, London 2011 (1981).

Sharma, Akhil, Family Life, W. W. Norton, New York, 2014.

Sharma, Akhil, ‘A Novel Like a Rocket,’ The New Yorker, 7 April 2014. www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/a-novel-like-a-rocket, accessed 16 February 2015.

Tolstoy, Leo, Anna Karenina, The Political Messenger, Moscow, 1873–1877.

Tolstoy, Leo, War & Peace, The Russian Messenger, Moscow, 1869.

Williamson, Geordie, ‘Courtenay counts the cost of cultural capital,’ The Australian, 11 December 2010. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/film/courtenay-counts-the-cost-of-cultural-capital/story-e6frg8pf-1225966829106, accessed 16 February 2015.

Wood, James, ‘Women on the Verge: The fiction of Elena Ferrante, The New Yorker, 21 January 2013. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/01/21/women-on-the-verge, accessed

Citations:

[i] Franzen, Jonathon, quoted in Susan Lerner, ‘A Conversation with Jonathon Franzen,’ Booth Magazine, 13 February 2015. http://booth.butler.edu/2015/02/13/a-conversation-with-jonathan-franzen/, accessed 13 February 2015.
[ii] Miller, Sandra A., ‘When Charles Dickens Came to Boston,’ The Boston Globe Magazine, 18 March 2012. http://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2012/03/17/when-charles-dickens-came-boston/LwCtpA83DGQWqFfVEoyfZL/story.html, accessed 15 February 2015.
[iii] Piirto, Jane, ‘The Creative Process in Poets,’ Creativity Across Domains: Faces of the Muse, (eds) James C. Kaufman & John Baer, Laurence Erhlbaum Associates, Inc./Taylor & Francis e-Library, Mahwah, NJ, 2011, 15.
[iv] McCrum, Robert, ‘Why movern novelists need to watch their weight,’ The Observer, 19 February 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/feb/19/novels-size-robert-mccrum, accessed 17 February 2015.
[v] Lawson, Mark, ‘Contemporary fiction can still stand the test of time,’ The Guardian, 11 September 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/sep/10/booker-books-mark-lawson, accessed 15 February 2015.
[vi] Cox, Michael, quoted in Sunil Badami, ‘Restless vision,’ The Australian, October 7–8, 2006, 13.
[vii] Courtenay, Bryce, quoted in Jason Whittaker, ‘Peter Carey’s a snob: Bryce Courtenay in defence of popular writing,’ Crikey, 9 June 2010. http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/06/09/peter-careys-a-snob-bryce-courtenay-in-defence-of-popular-storytelling/, accessed 18 February 2015.
[viii] Williamson, Geordie, ‘Courtenay counts the cost of cultural capital,’ The Australian, 11 December 2010. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/film/courtenay-counts-the-cost-of-cultural-capital/story-e6frg8pf-1225966829106, accessed 16 February 2015.
[ix] Kureishi, Hanif, quoted in Alison Flood, ‘Creative writing professor Hanif Kureishi says such courses are “a waste of time,”’ The Guardian, 5 March 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/04/creative-writing-courses-waste-of-time-hanif-kureishi, accessed 18 February 2015.
[x] Flaubert, Gustave, Madame Bovary, Hackett Publishing, Indianopolis, IN, 2009 (1857), 166.
[xi] Sharma, Akhil, ‘A Novel Like a Rocket,’ The New Yorker, 7 April 2014. www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/a-novel-like-a-rocket, accessed 16 February 2015.
[xii] O’Rourke, Megan, ‘Elena Ferrante: The global literary sensation nobody knows,’ The Guardian, 1 November 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/31/elena-ferrante-literary-sensation-nobody-knows, accessed 11 February 2015.
[xiii] ‘See Naples and die,’ The Economist, 5 October 2013. http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21587190-singular-voice-english-last-see-naples-and-die, accessed 11 February 2015.
[xiv] Ferrante, Elena, The Story of a New Name, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2013, 62.
[xv] Ferrante, Elena, The Story of a New Name, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2013, 34.

Image References

Image 401: Test Card and Bruton Music Compilation, Youtube, http://i.ytimg.com/vi/tUsvpxqm8iU/maxresdefault.jpg

Image 402: © Sara Felsenstein, Sketching a Story http://sketchingastory.com/2012/08/05/small-finds-pickwick-book-shop/
February 24, 2015 / Southerly

Please come to the launch of Australian Dreams!

Rust 1

Southerly is holding a mega double-launch of Australian Dreams 1 and Australian Dreams 2 and we’d love you to come! There will be wine and food and excellent company. There will also be readings from our fabulous contributors. The details are below.

See you there!

When: Thursday March 12th, 6pm
Where: Common Room, Woolley Building A20, University of Sydney
Map: http://sydney.edu.au/maps/campuses/?area=CAMDAR
RSVP: admin@southerlyjournal.com.au
Southerly 74-2 cover (LoRez)74_3Cover_595px
February 23, 2015 / Southerly

What’s in a name?

by Sunil Badami

IMAGE 203

As I mentioned in my previous post, most of my characters and protagonists aren’t named; and nearly all of them are women. I couldn’t tell you why, other than that I was raised by a strong woman, most of my friends are strong women, and I’ve always felt more comfortable and able to relate to women than men.

But sometimes I worry, not just that I can’t ever really know or understand what it means to be a woman, and that I’ll get my depiction and evocation of female voices wrong, but that I am somehow appropriating or colonising the female experience and perspective.

As Ruthven points out, ‘in the reign of identity politics… “empathy” becomes ideologically suspect. If nobody has the right to speak for anybody else, then to do so is an invasive act… in multicultural societies marked by social inequalities between different ethnic groups, “empathy” is unmasked as a myth of benevolence designed by the powerful to justify their practice of selectively appropriating the cultures of the powerless.’[i]

But then what to make of the work of A.M. Homes, most of whose characters are straight white men? In an early interview, Homes responded to questions about her work’s predominant “masculinity” that : ‘I choose the least likely person to tell the story, because they bring a perspective to it that I wouldn’t have… I feel that I understand men better than women.’[ii]

Surely depicting any person’s life outside our own is an imaginative act, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, class, no matter how closely they may resemble the author, demographically or otherwise? Isn’t what makes any depiction convincing not how mimetically realistic it might appear, but how closely it corresponds to the reader’s own perceived sense of themselves? Isn’t that the imaginative power of literature? As William Ian Miller argues, ‘my self is intimately tied up with my being embodied in a way that distinguishes me from others so that I am aware that I see their bodies differently and more fully than I see my own. That means the only full view I can get of myself requires others.’[iii]

I wouldn’t presume to go as far as Flaubert, who apocryphally said that ‘Bovary c’est moi.’[iv] And I think there’s a distinction between speaking of or for others that’s different, especially if it’s appropriative, in the manner Carmen’s imposture was, stealing the identity of an Aboriginal woman, only to prove, as academic Maggie Nolan so rightly put it, that ‘while [he] claimed he chose Koolmatrie as his narrator because her status as an Indigenous woman and member of the stolen generations seemed to him the most oppressed subject position he could think of to occupy, his hoax was grounded in an envy of the perceived rewards that came with that position, and the purpose of the hoax was to prove that Carmen is, in fact, worse off than [her].’[v]

I can’t help identifying with the diffident E. M. Forster’s defence of anonymity, including on the basis that unlike the signature, which belongs to the ‘surface personality’ (or celebrity, as we would call it today), literature tries to be unsigned. [vi] As critic Peter L Shillingsburg noted, ‘the agent of meaning, the reader’s sense of who it was that “did” the text, has a great deal to do with one’s enjoyment of or dismay with the text,’[vii] (which is why Helen D and Carmen’s impostures seemed so outrageous).

But Forster’s main argument for anonymity was that if readers thoroughly engaged with a novel and read it truly deeply, it allowed them to forget the author’s name and their own, in a way I do when I’m really reading, really writing (as I discussed in my previous post on Monday).

Ah! The irony of writing anonymously: that we can only tell the truth by lying, pretending to be someone else…

And yet… while I’d hope what I wrote got read regardless—or in spite—of who I am, but can it be, if I remain unknown, as illustrated by Doris Lessing’s publication as Jane Somers? And if someone is going to spend money on editing, publishing and promoting something I’ve written, surely it’d churlish of me to refuse to help in any way?

Can we even be truly anonymous today anyway, when all our demographic information is collected and stored for eternity on servers in secret locations? Even if we hide behind pseudonymous Twitter handles, we’ll all be doxed and found out eventually.

But don’t we all wear masks of some kind at some time, whether as children dressing up, in job interviews, on first dates, on stages at literary events, in the voices and feelings of the people we depict in our work?

Still, given how hard it is for me to choose my characters’ names, I couldn’t even begin to imagine how to choose any possible pen name (I can only work out my supposed porn name, Rebel Orinoco, in that game where you take your first pet and your first street, because we had a dog in our old house).

Besides, doesn’t it seem as if the pointed reclusiveness of writers like Harper Lee, J D Salinger and Thomas Pynchon only amplified their fame, with the eventual “unmasking” of the anonymous author of The Bride Stripped Bare seeming like little more than a marketing exercise to excite interest in an otherwise banal book?

(for an excellent discussion of the umasking of the anonymous author, and other reasons for anonymity, see David Donaldson’s great essay on the subject of anonymity here, and in the Lifted Brow’s Ego issue from last year).

But recently, I’ve thought about what about absence, real absence, in which a writer isn’t anonymous, or pseudonymous, or any-other-kind-of-nymous, but simply absent, might mean. Not within the book, where they are—via the people they embody and evoke to offer themselves to other people they may never see themselves—wholly present, but outside it, especially in relation to the mass-marketing and “social media engagement” publishing seems to demand today.

The Italian collective the Wu Ming Foundation, drawing its name from the Chinese word for “five people” and “anonymous,” and a name often used by Chinese dissidents after Tiananmen Square, is an interesting example of this, Wu Ming collaborate on metafictional self-reflexive revisionist historical novels, written with the pacy, page-turning energy and visceral detail of so-called ‘trade’ or ‘genre’ fiction, featuring outlandish and thrilling plots, such as Q and Altai, about a Zelig-like, shadowy, anonymous, Anabaptist protagonist seemingly involved in every tumultuous moment, rebellion, hoax and swindle of the Reformation; or 54, in which Cary Grant is torn between starring in Alfred Hitchcock’s upcoming To Catch a Thief and helping MI6 steal a secret McGuffin Electric Deluxe from Tito (Hitchcock fans will appreciate that).

Although every member of Wu Ming is individually well-known (Wu Ming 1 is Elmore Leonard’s Italian translator) they’re collectively anonymous. They renounce celebrity: although they do extensive book tours, they refuse to be photographed on the basis that ‘once the writer becomes a face that’s separate and alienated (in a literal sense), it’s a cannibalistic jumble: that face appears everywhere, almost always out of context. A photo is witness to my absence; it’s a banner of distance and solitude… I become a “character,” a stopgap used to quickly fill a page layout, an instrument that amplifies banality.[viii]

IMAGE 204

And recently, I read three novels by a writer dubbed by The Guardian ‘the global literary sensation nobody knows.’[ix] They made me question, like all the best books, who I am, what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, why. I devoured them—all parts of a larger work, split, like the classic novels of the 19th Century canon, into four volumes (the fourth coming out later this year)—in one feverish week, in which I thought about them constantly, dreamt about them, neglected everything else to read them.

On the publication of her first novel, she wrote to her publisher, telling them that she’d do nothing for its marketing, because, she’d already done enough: she wrote it. She wouldn’t take part in writers’ festivals or accept prizes, if any were awarded.

‘I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t. . . . I very much love those mysterious volumes, both ancient and modern, that have no definite author but have had and continue to have an intense life of their own. They seem to me a sort of night time miracle… True miracles are the ones whose makers will never be known…’[x]

Years later, she explained in one of those rare written interviews that:

‘I didn’t choose anonymity; the books are signed. Instead, I chose absence… I wanted the books to assert themselves without my patronage. This choice created a small polemic in the media, whose logic is aimed at inventing protagonists while ignoring the quality of the work, so that it seems natural that bad or mediocre books by someone who has a reputation in the media deserve more attention than books that might be of higher quality but were written by someone who is no one. But today, what counts most for me is to preserve a creative space that seems full of possibilities, including technical ones. The structural absence of the author affects the writing in a way that I’d like to continue to explore.’[xi]

Yet her absence has created speculation that she must be a collective like Wu Ming, or worse, a man. How could a woman write with such precision, such power, such truth?

Yet although women friends have enjoyed the things I’ve written, featuring female protagonists and narrators, I knew, the moment I read her, that there were things I could never know, I could never say, I could never write the way she, not only as a woman but as a great writer, could.

In one of the books, the narrator—possibly based on the author, but who knows?—encounters an old school friend who’s read a book she’s written based on her life, scandalous in her old neighbourhood because of a frank, raw, honest, unflinching depiction of the night she lost her virginity. The friend confronts her:

‘“In the book you wrote something else.”
So she had read it. I murmured defensively:
“I don’t even know anymore what ended up in there.”
“Dirty stuff ended up in there,” she said, “stuff that men don’t want to hear and women know but are afraid to say. But now what—are you hiding?”’[xii]

And next week, I hope we’ll explore those absences, of the writer, and of what they can and cannot write, of what August Strindberg once called ‘the meaning conveyed by the silence between words’[xiii] in her work, together.

References:

Alter, Alexandria, ‘New Jonathon Franzen Novel, Purity, Coming in September’, The New York Times, 17 November 2014. http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/17/new-jonathan-franzen-novel-purity-coming-in-september/, accessed 11 February.

Atherton, C ‘“Fuck all editors”: The Ern Malley affair and Gwen Harwood’s Bulletin scandal,’ Journal of Australian Studies Vol. 26, No. 72, 2002, 149–157.

Carey, Peter, quoted in Radhika Jones, ‘The Art of Fiction No. 88,’ The Paris Review, No. 177, Summer 2006. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5641/the-art-of-fiction-no-188-peter-carey, accessed 11 February 2015.

Carmen, Leon, ‘Wanda and I’, Courier-Mail, 15 March 1997, p 27.

Donaldson, David, ‘The Artist is Not Present: Anonymity in Literature,’ The Wheeler Centre, 28 July 2014. http://www.wheelercentre.com/notes/f98bd93c7e1a, accessed 11 February 2015.

Doctorow, E. L., ‘Notes on the History of Fiction,’ The Atlantic Fiction Issue, 1 August 2006. http://bit.ly/12iMB7T, accessed 23 September 2012.

Ferrante, Elena, quoted in James Woods, ‘Women on the Verge,’ The New Yorker, 21 January 2013. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/01/21/women-on-the-verge, accessed 11 February 2015.

Ferrante, Elena, quoted in Rachel Donadio, ‘Writing Has Always Been a Great Struggle for Me,’ The New York Times, 9 December 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/10/books/writing-has-always-been-a-great-struggle-for-me.html, accessed 11 February 2015.

Ferrante, Elena, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2014, 124.

Forster, E. M., ‘Anonymity: An inquiry,’ The Atlantic Monthly, November 1925, 588-595.

Franzen, Jonathon, ‘Perchance to Dream: In the Age of Images, A Reason to Write Novels’, Harper’s Magazine, April 1996, 35–54.

Greene, Graham, quoted in Richard Greene, (ed), Graham Greene: A Life in Letters, Little Brown, London, 2007), 148-158.

Guilliatt, Richard. ‘Black, white & grey all over,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 April 1997, p 13.

Huyssen, Andreas. After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Lamb, Karen, Peter Carey: The Genesis of Fame, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1992.

Leclerc, Yvan, ‘”Madame Bovary, c’est moi,’ formule apocryphe,’ University of Rouen, Rouen, February 2014. http://flaubert.univ-rouen.fr/ressources/mb_cestmoi.php, accessed 11 February 2015.

The Lifted Brow #23, The Ego Issue, June/July 2014. http://theliftedbrow.myshopify.com/products/the-lifted-brow-23-the-ego-issue

McCurry, Justin with Flood, Alison, ‘Haruki Murukami fans queue overnight for latest novel,’ The Guardian, 13 April 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/apr/12/haruki-murakami-colourless-tsukuru-tazaki, accessed 11 February 2015.

Marr, David, ‘Australia’s Satanic Verses,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 August 1995, 4.

Maxted, Anna, ‘A Pen Name is a Writer’s Best Friend,’ The Daily Telegraph, 15 July 2013. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10180200/JK-Rowling-is-right-a-pen-name-is-a-writers-best-friend.html, accessed 11 February 2015.

McDowell, Edwin, ‘Doris Lessing Says She Used Pen Name to Show New Writers’ Difficulties,’ The New York Times, 23 September 1984. http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/01/10/specials/lessing-pen.html, accessed 11 February 2015.

Miller, William Ian, Faking It, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003.

Murray, Les, quoted in Dennis O’Driscoll, ‘The Art of Poetry No. 89,’ The Paris Review, No. 173, Spring 2005. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5508/the-art-of-poetry-no-89-les-murray, accessed 11 February 2015

Murukami, Harumi, quoted in Steven Poole, ‘Haruki Murukami: I’m kind of an outcast of the Japanese literary world,’ The Guardian, 13 September 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/13/haruki-murakami-interview-colorless-tsukur-tazaki-and-his-years-of-pilgrimage, accessed 11 February 2015.

Nolan, Maggie, ‘In His Own Sweet Time: Carmen’s Coming Out’, in Who’s Who: Hoaxes, Imposture and Identity Crises in Australian Literature, Australian Literary Studies, Vol. 21, No. 4, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 2004, edited by Maggie Nolan & Carrie Dawson, 134–149.

O’Rourke, Megan, ‘Elena Ferrante: The global literary sensation nobody knows,’ The Guardian, 1 November 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/31/elena-ferrante-literary-sensation-nobody-knows, accessed 11 February 2015.

Peres da Costa, Suneeta. “Tautological Modernity: Democracy, Magic and Racism in the Demidenko-Darville Affair,” Cultural Studies Review 8.1 2002, 72–92.

Ruthven, K. K., Faking Literature, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001.

Sherrill, Matthew, ‘Ditching Dickensian’ The Paris Review Daily Blog, 30 April 2014. http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/04/30/ditching-dickensian/, accessed 11 February 2015.

Shillingsburg, Peter L., Resisting Texts: Authority and Submission in Constructions of Meaning, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1997.

Strindberg, August, Ghost Sonata from (ed) Thaddeus L. Torp, Ghost Sonata & When We Dead Awaken, Crofts Classics Vol. 17, Harlan Davidson, Wheeling IL, 1977.

Takolander, Maria, ‘Faking it for Real, ’esc: English Studies in Canada, Vol. 31, Issue 2-3, June/Sept 2005, ACCUTE (Association of Canadian Colleges and University Teachers of English), University of Alberta, Edmonton CA, 307–325.

Takolander, Maria & McCooey, David,‘Fakes, Literary Identity and Public Culture,’ Journal for the Association of the Study of Australian Literature, Vol. 3, 2004, 57–65. http://www.nla.gov.au/openpublish/index.php/jasal/article/view/34/53, accessed 11 February 2015.

Taylor, D J, The Real George Orwell, BBC Radio 4, 14 January 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p013qs8w, accessed 11 February 2015.

Turner, Graeme, ‘Australian Literature and the Public Sphere,’ Keynote Address to the 1998 Conference of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, ASAL, Toowoomba 1998, The Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, Special Issue, 1998. Eds A Bartlett, R Dixon and C Lee, 1–12. http://www.nla.gov.au/openpublish/index.php/jasal/article/view/2761/3172, accessed 11 February 2015.

Turner, Graeme, ‘Nationalising the Author: The Celebrity of Peter Carey’, Australian Literary Studies, vol. 16, no. 2, 1993, 136.

Watt, Ian, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (Second American Edition), University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles CA, 2001, 43.

Webby, Elizabeth, quoted in Debra Jopson, ‘Writing wrongs,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 March 1997, 38.

Wu Ming, quoted in Alessandro Bertante et al, ‘The Perfect Storm, or rather: The Monster Interview,’ 2007. http://www.manituana.com/documenti/0/8246/EN, accessed 11 February 2015.

Citations:

[ii] Homes, A.M., quoted in Gregory Crewdson, ‘A.M. Homes in Wonder Land,’ BOMB 55, Spring 1996. http://bombmagazine.org/article/1954/, accessed 11 February 2015.
[iii] Miller, William Ian, Faking It, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003.
[iv] Leclerc, Yvan, ‘”Madame Bovary, c’est moi,’ formule apocryphe,’ University of Rouen, Rouen, February 2014. http://flaubert.univ-rouen.fr/ressources/mb_cestmoi.php, accessed 11 February 2015.
[v] Nolan, Maggie, ‘In His Own Sweet Time: Carmen’s Coming Out’, in Who’s Who: Hoaxes, Imposture and Identity Crises in Australian Literature, Australian Literary Studies, Vol. 21, No. 4, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 2004, edited by Maggie Nolan & Carrie Dawson, 146.
[vi] Forster, E. M., ‘Anonymity: An inquiry,’ The Atlantic Monthly, November 1925, 592-3.
[vii] Shillingsburg, Peter L., Resisting Texts: Authority and Submission in Constructions of Meaning, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1997, 160–162.
[viii] Wu Ming, quoted in Alessandro Bertante et al, ‘The Perfect Storm, or rather: The Monster Interview,’ 2007. http://www.manituana.com/documenti/0/8246/EN, accessed 11 February 2015.
[ix] O’Rourke, Megan, ‘Elena Ferrante: The global literary sensation nobody knows,’ The Guardian, 1 November 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/31/elena-ferrante-literary-sensation-nobody-knows, accessed 11 February 2015.
[x] Ferrante, Elena, quoted in James Woods, ‘Women on the Verge,’ The New Yorker, 21 January 2013. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/01/21/women-on-the-verge, accessed 11 February 2015.
[xi] Ferrante, Elena, quoted in Rachel Donadio, ‘Writing Has Always Been a Great Struggle for Me,’ The New York Times, 9 December 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/10/books/writing-has-always-been-a-great-struggle-for-me.html, accessed 11 February 2015.
[xii] Ferrante, Elena, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2014, 124.
[xiii] Strindberg, August, Ghost Sonata from (ed) Thaddeus L. Torp, Ghost Sonata & When We Dead Awaken, Crofts Classics Vol. 17, Harlan Davidson, Wheeling IL, 1977, 22.

 

February 20, 2015 / Southerly

What’s my name?

by Sunil Badami

When I was younger, I was so thrilled by the idea of seeing my by-line in print, nothing else mattered. As I’ve gotten older, how I wish I’d had the foresight, like my idol, Eric Blair, to get a pen name!

Why, especially in this age of celebrity, where children’s greatest ambition now seems not to be a doctor or even an actor, but just to be, like the Kardashians, simply famous, would I want a pen name? Not even actors bother with stage names now.

Pseudonyms have existed as long as literature has: what other vocation has two names for the assumption of a false identity (or, indeed, so many eponymic adjectives to describe it, from Dickensian to Kafkaesque, Brechtian to Orwellian)? One of Australia’s greatest writers gave her pen name and her actual name to two national literary awards, the Miles Franklin Award and the Stella Prize.

We all know about anonymity and pseudonymity in Australia, where we’ve had a long and ignoble history of literary hoaxing and identity imposture, from Ern Malley to Helen Demidenko, Wanda Koolmartrie to Walter Lehmann.

I’ve always hated my name. Not just because, as I describe in my story, Sticks and Stones and Such-like in Growing Up Asian in Australia, nobody could ever pronounce it, or because, in those newly post-White Australia days, when, despite the emphasis and onus being to assimilate, no matter what I did, I wasn’t ever Australian enough, and my unpronounceable name just seemed too Indian, making me change it for a few weeks until my mother found out and told me the story of its meaning (click on the link, it’ll take you to the story).

A few years ago I discovered that our family name was, despite all the recorded history behind it, made up. My grandfather, tired of being confused with other honorifically-named Raos at the Court of the Maharaja of Mysore, had changed it, taking it from the small temple town from whence family legend said we’d originated (itself a corruption of another name). In India, you can know everything about someone from their name: their religion, their caste, their mother tongue. It is as much a locator as a designator. ‘Badami’ often draws a blank (unless we’re in an Indian restaurant and someone orders Lamb Badami)—not just as a label telling someone in India where I’m from, but from anyone at a book launch who the hell I am.

Still, what does my name say on something I’ve written? I’m all too aware of what a former agent called my ‘USP’ (or ‘unique selling point’): NESB (‘non English-speaking background’), hybridised identity, ‘exotic but familiar’ etc etc etc… Is it any wonder I feel even more fragmented by all that demographication? Sometimes, I wonder if a “non-ethnic” name might have offered me some kind of freedom from perceptions or performances of authenticity—much less whatever a nom-de-plume once did for Orwell or it does the Italian collective Wu Ming or Robert Galbraith, the recently exposed pseudonym used by J. K. Rowling.

At the height of the so-called history and culture wars, what Richard Guilliatt described at the time ‘surely Australia’s greatest cultural identity crisis’[i] occurred: in the space of only a few months, the Ukrainian identity of the Vogel, Miles Franklin and ASA Medal-winning Demidenko was revealed to be untrue; and celebrated Dobby Award-winning Aboriginal memoirist Wanda Koolmatrie was revealed to be middle-aged white taxi driver, Leon Carmen.

Much of the criticism of the initial praise for Demidenko and Carmen—and their own disingenuous justifications for their impostures—was based on the erroneous assumption that, as Demidenko (or Darville, or Dale, or, as David Marr called her, “Helen D”[ii]) put it, ‘ethnic essentialism had reached such a state that if you tried to tell a multi-cultural or ethnic story and you weren’t then you either wouldn’t get published or you wouldn’t be given any sort of credence… So I had to find a way around it.’[iii]. Carmen’s excuse was that ‘the time seemed to be ripe. Authors as personalities were attracting more attention than their books… it seemed the only way to get into print.’[iv]

While we might like to think of literature as some kind of ivory tower, it’s not. Publishing has always been the awkward embrace of art and commerce. As Graeme Turner noted in his keynote to the Association for the Study of Australian Literature Conference in 1998, while ‘we have tended to see the writer as a scourge of such processes, indeed of all media-constructed identities… the mass-mediated promotional world of fashion and celebrity, literature also appears to have become largely about the author’s saleability rather than primarily about the book’s “literary” quality.’[v]

Writers’ names are brand names now: not just bestsellers like Rowling, Bryce Courtenay or James Patterson whose names are writ large over the top of their books’ titles, but celebrated authors like Carey or Jonathon Franzen. Indeed, isn’t Peter Carey’s name on the cover of a book as important to its sales and reception as ‘Demidenko’s’ supposedly was, or Patterson’s is (and what does it say that like Patterson and Courtenay, Carey—and fellow Booker winner Salman Rushdie—worked in advertising)?

Indeed, what is the difference between brands like Clancy and Patterson and authors—a word very different, I think, to writer—like Carey or Franzen? Much less Helen D?

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As academic and novelist Suneeta Peres da Costa argues, perhaps the only difference between the identity construction of a “fake” author like Helen from that of a “real” author like Carey is only ‘the extent that it [has been] demystified as such’.[vi] One of Australia’s foremost hoax scholars, Maria Takolander, along with David McCooey, proposed that the very reasons Helen D was celebrated were the very same that a “real” author like, say, Peter Carey is:

‘At his appearance at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival to promote My Life as a Fake… the session chair… while ostensibly parodying media representations of Carey, nevertheless reinforced in an intensely personalising and fetishizing introduction not only Carey’s status as both familiar Australian and exotic internationalist.’[vii]

If, as novelist E. L. Doctorow argues, ‘the public figure… makes a fiction of himself long before the novelist gets to him is almost beside the point… they are not the same, nor can they be,’[viii] then perhaps the fiction is intensified when the novelist—whose consciousness is already split between themselves author and the fictional narrator whose voice they assume in their work—is the public figure himself.

‘What happens,’ asks Takolander, ‘as in the case of celebrities, when the performing self overwhelms the “real-self”? Are the potential pathological consequences of fame due less to losing touch with the “real-self,” which in all probability doesn’t exist, and more to do with an unnatural reification, a kind of death in life? The split between a public and a private self has the potential to develop into something neurotic.’[ix]

Could this self-splitting be an explanation for why so many writers are so neurotic? Perhaps, because they’re required to ventriloquise or imaginatively sympathise with the characters whose consciousnesses they depict, novelists’s consciousnesses are constantly split between the actual and imaginary, themselves and their fictional characters. But I’m only speaking for myself here… or is that myselves?

And could this be why so many prominent male writers paradoxically proclaim their outsiderness, despite being such a part of the literary establishment? Carey has made much of his humble beginnings in Bacchus Marsh and his lack of interest in reading until he was eighteen, a myth established by one of his first profiles in The Australian Women’s Weekly, titled ‘Author who hadn’t read a book before he turned 18.’[x] In a 2006 Paris Review interview, he reiterated his ordinariness—pointing out his father’s lack of formal education, his mother being the daughter of a poor, country schoolteacher.[xi]

His supposed lack of reading, however, makes you wonder what the hell they were up to in the Geelong Grammar English Department, doesn’t it? As Lamb opines Carey’s reshaping of the past and media personality of ‘ordinariness’ in marketing of his ‘non-elitist’ credentials contradicts the evidence of someone who slipped easily into his years in a school[xii] he asserted to the Paris Review was ‘more about class than anything else.’[xiii]

In 2005, the much lauded, perennially Australia Council-granted and Nobel-nominated unofficial Australian poet laureate Les Murray told The Paris Review that ‘it’s a deep dirty secret, in Australia, that I’m the wrong class to be a poet,’ adding (and echoing Takolander and McCooey’s observation of Carey) that ‘I remain an exotic.’ [xiv]

It’s not just old white blokes, either. In 2013, the equally perennially Nobel-nominated Haruki Murukami, whose last book, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, sold over a million copies in Japan alone, with excited readers lining up overnight to buy it, told The Guardian on its English publication that ‘I’m a kind of outcast of the Japanese literary world. I have my own readers … but critics, writers, many of them don’t like me.’[xv]

It’s a familiar line, offered by Jonathon Franzen in ‘The Harper’s Essay’ (originally published as ‘Perchance to Dream: In the Age of Images, A Reason to Write Novels’) or David Foster Wallace in ‘E Pluribus Unum: Television and American Fiction’, where, according to Franzen, ‘multiculturalism and the new politics of identity bear to corporate specialty-marketing-to the national sales apparatus that can target your tastes by your zip code and supply you with products appropriate to your demographics’and ‘the current flourishing of novels by women and cultural minorities may in part represent a movement, in the face of a hyperkinetic televised reality.’ As Foster Wallace contended in Franzen’s essay:

‘Just about everybody with any sensitivity feels like there’s a party going on that they haven’t been invited to–we’re all alienated… And it’s not an accident that so many of the writers in the shadows are straight white males. Tribal writers can feel the loneliness and anger and identify themselves with their subculture and can write to and for their subculture about how the mainstream culture’s alienated them. White males are the mainstream culture. So why shouldn’t we be angry, confused, lonely white males who write at and against the culture?’[xvi]

But a sense of alienation is not the same as the marginalisation suffered by others who are not white or male. And Franzen and Foster Wallace have never had to negotiate, as I and many other non-white people do, with trying to express themselves in a language that has historically been used to subdue and silence them, denigrate and discriminate against them (which is why, as Malcolm Knox so eloquently argued, the weight of history lays more heavily on a “black cunt” than a white one[xvii]).

All of us are alienated or marginalised at one time or another—even middle aged white men—and reading and writing, as I mentioned in my previous post, exist because we feel like outsiders whom nobody else understands, saying to us the things we cannot say to anyone else, even to ourselves (and even as we ironically isolate ourselves from others to connect to others who don’t exist).

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Fiction, ever since Plato banished it from his Republic, has—despite its privilege in the academy and literary circles—always been a little suspect and has traded on its transgressiveness.

Given its historic, eternal unreliability—which, paradoxically, by opposing and questioning the “official record” gives it its essential truth—making what the pseudonymous Simon Leys called ‘lies that tell the truth,’[xviii] the best writing is—and must be—transgressive: the book you shouldn’t be reading, rather than the one you have to study. The screed or satire that mocks the powerful and makes us, in laughing at them, laugh at ourselves (indeed, the best literature, like the best jokes, aren’t funnier for being explained, are they?)

The first great novel, Don Quixote—still funny because it’s true—was a picaresque, and writers must question the official record and purported truth. In such a light, is there any more oxymoronic phrase than “literary establishment?”

According to Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel, the novel’s early readership was almost entirely female, and determined its content to a large degree[xix] (and any quick walk through publishing offices from London to Melbourne will attest to how many women work in publishing, even if it isn’t necessarily dominated by them, given how many CEOs and marquee authors and reviewers still overwhelmingly male).

But while the notion that gained ground in the 19th Century that “popular” culture was somehow associated with women as “real, authentic” culture remains masculine, as Andreas Huyssen points out, the traditional exclusion of women from the realm of “high art” takes on new connotations in wake of mass cultural commodification and consumption.[xx] Contrast the male “state of the nation” novel with the female “kitchen sink drama.” How will Franzen’s forthcoming novel, Purity, featuring a female protagonist, be labelled, I wonder?

(Franzen himself acknowledged this in 2010, agreeing ‘to a certain extent [that] when a male writer simply writes adequately about family, his book gets reviewed seriously, because: “Wow, a man has actually taken some interest in the emotional texture of daily life”, whereas with a woman it’s liable to be labelled “chick-lit.” There is a long-standing gender imbalance in what goes into the canon, however you want to define the canon.’”[xxi])

Although her family and friends did call her Miles, you can’t help thinking Franklin chose to use that name in the same way Mary Ann Evans chose George Eliot or Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin chose George Sand—just as nearly a century after Miles, Joanne Rowling chose J. K., apparently on the advice of her publisher, because ‘he thought that young boys might be wary of a book written by a woman.’[xxii] As Anna Maxted notes, ‘the Brontës published under the names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell 170-odd years ago because, as Charlotte said with admirable understatement, “we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.”’[xxiii]

Indeed, one of Australia’s best literary hoaxes happened when the great Australian poet, Gwen Harwood, sent in two sonnets to The Bulletin, Abelard to Heloise and Heloise to Abelard, to protest the relative lack of representation or respect given to what then-editor Donald Horne patronisingly called “lady poets” and the way in which her poems’ meticulously contructed lines were blithely pushed flush by an indiscriminate style guide.

Because the sonnets’ caesural indentations were marginalised (both literally and actually) they revealed the acrostics SO LONG BULLETIN and FUCK ALL EDITORS. Harwood continued to publish under different pseudonyms, including Francis Geyer, Timothy (T.F.) Kline, Alan Carvosso, W.W. Hagendoor (an anagram of her own name) and others.

But the designation “lady writer” is just as offensive to me as “authoress”—much less “Indian-Australian” or “South Asian” writer. When’s the last time you heard of Peter Carey (or Tim Winton or David Malouf or Les Murray) being described as a “white male writer”? And who gets to decide where the “black” or “women’s” writing goes, much less the “literary” fiction?

Don’t get me wrong: some of my best friends are white men, and I can’t deny the influence Carey and Murray, Franzen and Foster Wallace have had on my work as a writer and me as a man. But as Graham Greene said, ‘For the [writer], disloyalty [is] the queen of virtues…. Loyalty confines us to accepted opinions: loyalty forbids us to comprehend sympathetically our dissident fellows; but disloyalty encourages us to roam experimentally through any human mind: it gives to the novelist the extra dimension of sympathy.’[xxiv]

Surely greatness should not—as Turner alleges Carey wants, resenting suggestions that he’s had a very direct involvement in the construction of his public persona, and critical reviews of his work[xxv]—preclude or exempt scrutiny, but demand even more?

Of course, there’s danger in suggesting novelists have any greater sympathy—much less imaginative empathy—than anyone else, least of all their readers. And for many writers, especially young writers, writing autobiographical fiction—even as there’s no greater fiction than autobiography—there’s a reluctance to speak for others. As Franzen perceived it, ‘unfortunately, there’s evidence that… writers today feel ghettoised in their ethnic or gender identities,’ in which, imprisoned by the first person, they’re ‘discouraged by from speaking across boundaries by a culture apparently ‘conditioned by television to accept only the literal testimony of the Self.’ [xxvi]

Whatever, whoever that is.

Indeed, what’s most fascinating about these authoritative assertions of otherness by Carey, Franzen, Foster Wallace, Murray, Doctorow, Murukami and more, are the cultural assumptions, perhaps inspired by the linguistic fallacy of the “I,” that imply that the normal self is a solid and singular quantity, where, according to Takolander, ‘the lack of a sole and stable identity appears variously as pathological, monstrous, and central to female identity.’[xxvii]

For someone who’s always being asked where he’s really from, who can’t tell if he’s Australian or Indian enough, and who wonders why he has to be sutured together with that hyphen between them, the idea of a sole and stable one is just that. An idea, rather than reality.

Still, although Dobbie Prize judge Elizabeth Webby called Carmen’s hoax ‘an act of colonisation,’ she also warned against ‘drawing some arbitrary line which artists cannot cross. “I do not think there is any line as far as the imagination goes… the claim we make for writing and reading is that it allows us to experience other lives we wouldn’t otherwise experience.”’[xxviii]

Which, of course, makes me wonder about all this in relation to my work. Although most of the protagonists and narrators in my fiction aren’t named because I’m hopeless at naming things, from characters to titles, pretty much every single one is female.

Am I, a supposedly post-colonial writer, colonising other people’s lives and voices myself? It’s a question, among others, I hope we can try to answer on Monday.

References:

Alter, Alexandria, ‘New Jonathon Franzen Novel, Purity, Coming in September’, The New York Times, 17 November 2014. http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/17/new-jonathan-franzen-novel-purity-coming-in-september/, accessed 11 February.

Atherton, C ‘“Fuck all editors”: The Ern Malley affair and Gwen Harwood’s Bulletin scandal,’ Journal of Australian Studies Vol. 26, No. 72, 2002, 149–157.

Carey, Peter, quoted in Radhika Jones, ‘The Art of Fiction No. 88,’ The Paris Review, No. 177, Summer 2006. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5641/the-art-of-fiction-no-188-peter-carey, accessed 11 February 2015.

Carmen, Leon, ‘Wanda and I’, Courier-Mail, 15 March 1997, p 27.

Doctorow, E. L., ‘Notes on the History of Fiction,’ The Atlantic Fiction Issue, 1 August 2006. http://bit.ly/12iMB7T, accessed 23 September 2012.

Franzen, Jonathon, ‘Perchance to Dream: In the Age of Images, A Reason to Write Novels’, Harper’s Magazine, April 1996, 35–54. http://harpers.org/archive/1996/04/perchance-to-dream/, accessed 11 February 2015.

Franzen, Jonathon, quoted in Helena de Bertodano, ‘Jonathon Franzen interview,’ The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/authorinterviews/8022791/Jonathan-Franzen-interview.html, 29 September 2010, accessed 11 February 2015

Guilliatt, Richard. ‘Black, white & grey all over,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 April 1997, p 13.

Huyssen, Andreas. After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Lamb, Karen, Peter Carey: The Genesis of Fame, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1992.

McCurry, Justin with Flood, Alison, ‘Haruki Murukami fans queue overnight for latest novel,’ The Guardian, 13 April 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/apr/12/haruki-murakami-colourless-tsukuru-tazaki, accessed 11 February 2015.

Marr, David, ‘Australia’s Satanic Verses,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 August 1995, 4.

Maxted, Anna, ‘A Pen Name is a Writer’s Best Friend,’ The Daily Telegraph, 15 July 2013. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10180200/JK-Rowling-is-right-a-pen-name-is-a-writers-best-friend.html, accessed 11 February 2015.

McDowell, Edwin, ‘Doris Lessing Says She Used Pen Name to Show New Writers’ Difficulties,’ The New York Times, 23 September 1984. http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/01/10/specials/lessing-pen.html, accessed 11 February 2015.

Murray, Les, quoted in Dennis O’Driscoll, ‘The Art of Poetry No. 89,’ The Paris Review, No. 173, Spring 2005. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5508/the-art-of-poetry-no-89-les-murray, accessed 11 February 2015

Murukami, Harumi, quoted in Steven Poole, ‘Haruki Murukami: I’m kind of an outcast of the Japanese literary world,’ The Guardian, 13 September 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/13/haruki-murakami-interview-colorless-tsukur-tazaki-and-his-years-of-pilgrimage, accessed 11 February 2015.

Peres da Costa, Suneeta. “Tautological Modernity: Democracy, Magic and Racism in the Demidenko-Darville Affair,” Cultural Studies Review 8.1 2002, 72–92.

Ruthven, K. K., Faking Literature, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001.

Sherrill, Matthew, ‘Ditching Dickensian’ The Paris Review Daily Blog, 30 April 2014. http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/04/30/ditching-dickensian/, accessed 11 February 2015.

Takolander, Maria, ‘Faking it for Real, ’esc: English Studies in Canada, Vol. 31, Issue 2-3, June/Sept 2005, ACCUTE (Association of Canadian Colleges and University Teachers of English), University of Alberta, Edmonton CA, 307–325. http://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/ESC/article/view/1341, accessed 11 February 2015.

Takolander, Maria & McCooey, David,‘Fakes, Literary Identity and Public Culture,’ Journal for the Association of the Study of Australian Literature, Vol. 3, 2004, 57–65. http://www.nla.gov.au/openpublish/index.php/jasal/article/view/34/53, accessed 11 February 2015.

Taylor, D J, The Real George Orwell, BBC Radio 4, 14 January 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p013qs8w, accessed 11 February 2015.

Turner, Graeme, ‘Australian Literature and the Public Sphere,’ Keynote Address to the 1998 Conference of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, ASAL, Toowoomba 1998, The Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, Special Issue, 1998. Eds A Bartlett, R Dixon and C Lee, 1–12. http://www.nla.gov.au/openpublish/index.php/jasal/article/view/2761/3172, accessed 11 February 2015.

Turner, Graeme, ‘Nationalising the Author: The Celebrity of Peter Carey’, Australian Literary Studies, vol. 16, no. 2, 1993, 136.

Watt, Ian, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (Second American Edition), University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles CA, 2001, 43.

Webby, Elizabeth, quoted in Debra Jopson, ‘Writing wrongs,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 March 1997, 38.

Citations:

[i] Guilliatt, Richard. ‘Black, white & grey all over,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 April 1997, p 13.
[ii] Marr, David, ‘Australia’s Satanic Verses,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 August 1995, 4.
[iii] Darville, Helen, quoted in Helen Dalley, ‘Helen Darville breaks her silence,’ Sunday, Nine Network Australia, 8 June 1997. http://www.9jumpin.com.au/sunday/cover_stories/transcript_163.asp, accessed 20 June 2013.
[iv] Carmen, Leon, ‘Wanda and I’, Courier-Mail, 15 March 1997, p 27.
[v] Turner, Graeme, ‘Nationalising the Author: The Celebrity of Peter Carey’, Australian Literary Studies, vol. 16, no. 2, 1993, 138.
[vi] Peres da Costa, Suneeta. “Tautological Modernity: Democracy, Magic and Racism in the Demidenko-Darville Affair,” Cultural Studies Review 8.1 2002, 72–92.
[vii] Takolander, Maria & McCooey, David,‘Fakes, Literary Identity and Public Culture,’ Journal for the Association of the Study of Australian Literature, Vol. 3, 2004, 61.
[viii] Doctorow, E. L., ‘Notes on the History of Fiction,’ The Atlantic Fiction Issue, 1 August 2006. [http://bit.ly/12iMB7T, accessed 23 September 2012.
[ix] Takolander, Maria, ‘Faking it for Real, ’esc: English Studies in Canada, Vol. 31, Issue 2-3, June/Sept 2005, ACCUTE (Association of Canadian Colleges and University Teachers of English), University of Alberta, Edmonton CA, 312. http://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/ESC/article/view/1341, accessed 11 February 2015.
[x] Brass, Keith, ‘The Author Who Hadn’t Read a Book Before he Turned Eighteen’ The Australian Women’s Weekly 24 December 1980, p 20.
[xi] Carey, Peter, quoted in Radhika Jones, ‘The Art of Fiction No. 88,’ The Paris Review, No. 177, Summer 2006. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5641/the-art-of-fiction-no-188-peter-carey, accessed 11 February 2015.
[xii] Lamb, Karen, Peter Carey: The Genesis of Fame, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1992, 5.
[xiii] Carey, Peter, quoted in Radhika Jones, ‘The Art of Fiction No. 88,’ The Paris Review, No. 177, Summer 2006. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5641/the-art-of-fiction-no-188-peter-carey, accessed 11 February 2015.
[xiv] Murray, Les, quoted in Dennis O’Driscoll, ‘The Art of Poetry No. 89,’ The Paris Review, No. 173, Spring 2005. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5508/the-art-of-poetry-no-89-les-murray, accessed 11 February 2015.
[xv] Murukami, Harumi, quoted in Steven Poole, ‘Haruki Murukami: I’m kind of an outcast of the Japanese literary world,’ The Guardian, 13 September 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/13/haruki-murakami-interview-colorless-tsukur-tazaki-and-his-years-of-pilgrimage, accessed 11 February 2015.
[xvi] Foster Wallace, David, quoted in Jonathon Franzen, ‘Perchance to Dream: In the Age of Images, A Reason to Write Novels’, Harper’s Magazine, April 1996, 51.
[xvii] Knox, Malcolm, ‘Context the key when punishing racial vilification,’ Backpage Lead, 11 October 2010. http://www.backpagelead.com.au/index.php/league/2792-context-the-key-when-punishing-racial-vilication, accessed 12 October 2010.
[xviii] Ryckmans, Pierre (Leys, Simon). ‘Lies that tell the Truth’. The Monthly, November 2007. Melbourne: Black Inc Publishing,
[xix] Watt, Ian, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (Second American Edition), University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles CA, 2001, 43.
[xx] Huyssen, Andreas. After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1987, 47.
[xxi] Franzen, Jonathon, quoted in Helena de Bertodano, ‘Jonathon Franzen interview,’ The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/authorinterviews/8022791/Jonathan-Franzen-interview.html, 29 September 2010, accessed 11 February 2015.
[xxii] Rowling, J K, ‘Pen Name’. http://www.jkrowling.com/en_US/#/timeline/pen-name/, accessed 11 February 2015.
[xxiii] Maxted, Anna, ‘A Pen Name is a Writer’s Best Friend,’ The Daily Telegraph, 15 July 2013. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10180200/JK-Rowling-is-right-a-pen-name-is-a-writers-best-friend.html, accessed 11 February 2015.
[xxiv] Greene, Graham, quoted in Richard Greene, (ed), Graham Greene: A Life in Letters, Little Brown, London, 2007), 148-158.
[xxv] Turner, Graeme, Turner, Graeme, ‘Nationalising the Author: The Celebrity of Peter Carey’, Australian Literary Studies, vol. 16, no. 2, 1993, 136.
[xxvi] Franzen, Jonathon, ‘Perchance to Dream: In the Age of Images, A Reason to Write Novels’, Harper’s Magazine, April 1996, 47-48.
[xxvii] Takolander, Maria, ‘Faking it for Real, ’esc: English Studies in Canada, Vol. 31, Issue 2-3, June/Sept 2005, ACCUTE (Association of Canadian Colleges and University Teachers of English), University of Alberta, Edmonton CA, 310–311. http://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/ESC/article/view/1341, accessed 11 February 2015.
[xxviii] Webby, Elizabeth, quoted in Debra Jopson, ‘Writing wrongs’. The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 March 1997, 38.

 

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