Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The End

As of today, Intersecting Lines is no more. Unlike last time there will be no dramatic resurrection.

Thanks to TimT, James, and Beth - without your efforts the blog would have folded all those months ago. As it was, we revamped it, had a bit of fun, upset a couple of people, and hopefully entertained a few more. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end - and so too must Intersecting Lines.

All contributors may be stalked by following the links to the right of this post.

Cheers.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Adventures of Snidy - with Colourful Pictures!

I've been on a bit of a spending splurge over the last two days. I got two DVD's (The Producers, Blazing Saddles), a book of How To Write Television Comedy, Dream Comics, Tintin in the Congo, Ha! Magazine, The Australian, and the Herald Sun.

I also got A Sindy Adventure Story!



Not this one: Sindy Adventures, it seems, are so rare that they haven't even made it onto the internets. However, the Adventure I have - The Curious Clock - shares certain characteristics with the others. Note the blue, white, and red sweater: Sindy wears the same on the cover of my book, along with the red hair-band and denim trousers. (And she's certainly a well-developed girl, isn't she? Excuse me ...) Note, also, the sidekicks - most importantly, her ten-year-old sister Patch (pictured to the right of Sindy). And note, finally, that an anagram of 'Sindy' is Snidy. Not that that's important or anything, I just felt you should know that.

As it turned out, I was missing the first two pages, but I bet I can guess the beginning:

'I am so sorry, but I cannot come to the auction, my dears! I hope you have a WON-derful time!'
Blonde, blue-eyed Sindy ____s, who was sixteen and tall for her age, flicked a strand of hair out of her eyes and looked in exasperation at her sister...

You know how it goes.

Anyway, it made for a pleasant Saturday afternoon read. You learn some interesting things about, for instance, people who live at places with name's like Rat Wharf:

'Mike Roake, Rat Wharf'. Fancy living in a place with a name like that!'

Or:

'But I thought we'd decided that the burglar was Count Fersson?'


'That was what we thought last night - because of the clock, but we may have been wrong, Paul. The sergeant may have been right. It might have been a professional burglar, the sort of man who might live in a place called Rat Wharf.'

Now, you or I might doubt that criminals actually do live at Rat Wharf. You might think, in fact, that people living at a place called Rat Wharf are just ordinary folks. Sindy, thankfully, is in no doubt of their felonious propensities, and she and her 'boy friend Paul' take her theory to the police station and inform the sergeant.
At this point, Sindy's sister Patch actually gets into the action. And about time, too ...

'Excuse me, but could you tell me the way to Rat Wharf?'
'Rat Wharf!' He looked at her with something approaching horror.
'Why do you want Rat Wharf? A nice little girl like you has no business going to a place like Rat Wharf!'

When she gets there:

... 'The only thing she noted in that first, horrified glance was that he had a cloth tied around the lower part of his face.
She dropped to the ground ...'


Nice little moment of pulpy writing there: action and reaction are all tied up in one 'first horrified glance'.
It's all quite enjoyable. I had lots of fun spotting the moments of pulpy writing: the 'beaming smile' from the detective, and the melodramatic Count Fersson who has this beautiful line written about him:

He was handsome in a dark, flashing-toothed manner, but for some reason Sindy did not like him. She did not trust him because he smiled only with his mouth.

Smiling only with his mouth; I like that...

(Cross-posted here.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Biased View of Media Bias

There's been a bit of discussion lately about media bias, following the new appointments to the Literature Board and the ABC. I can't say I'm too phased by it, since bias is not necessarily a bad thing; strange as it may seem, you can be both objective and biased. But it's an interesting subject, if only because of the frequency with which it crops up in political disputes. So I thought I might put my two cents in, about media bias in general, and about bias in Australian publications in particular.

***

Firstly, it has to be said that broadcast media, in Australia at least, is much less biased than published media. Right-wingers are fond of attacking the ABC for having a left-wing bias, and left-wingers are fond of complaining about right-wing bias in the commercial networks. That's not really true; as Rachy pointed out in a conversation with me, the commercial networks are populist. You can't really slot this populism into a political category; they'll go for whatever rates. For instance, Sixty Minutes did a story this weekend about the chemical pollution caused by a large company operating in Botany Bay: as a political issue, this is closer to something the Australian Greens might be focusing on, rather than the two major parties, but it's hardly an example of overwhelming pro-Green bias.

The ABC is not biased, either. It's probably different from the other stations in that it's self-consciously intellectual; it targets what are called the big ideas and the big issues, which is partly why it has so many programs focusing on religion and science and art and economics, even though none of them rate very well. I do agree that the ABC's board is biased, simply because I've been told by a person who worked for the ABC - a left-winger - that they were, overwhelmingly, old socialists. I just don't think that this has much of an effect on the content of the ABC shows. And why should I begrudge old socialists a job?
So, as I said, the ABC is self-consciously intellectual. Overall, I think this has a negative effect on their shows, since it means they will accept most ideas that come to them with very little criticism. About two weeks ago, on the 7.30 Report, Kerry O'Brien interviewed John Howard about nuclear energy. O'Brien challenged Howard that he had not looked fairly at the alternatives, such as wind and solar power. There is some truth to this, because these proposed alternative energies are demonstrably inefficient, and more energy may in fact be expended in setting them up and taking them down than they produce themselves. In other words, the 'sustainable energy' alternatives most commonly put forward in the media are silly alternatives. Why should we consider the silly alternatives 'fairly'? By continuing to use the ABC as a platform to push these alternatives, O'Brien contributes less to the energy debate than to the general confusion in Australia which surrounds this topic.
So, enough said about the ABC and the commercial networks.

***

Secondly, moving on to the published media, there are more extreme examples of bias. The most obvious reason for this is probably because of the predominance of opinion columnists; another example is the influence of Australian artists and creative writers on parts of this media.
Quadrant, for instance, is a right-wing publication - it's John Howard's favourite journal, for starters. It's also an excellent read. The first editor was Australian poet James McCauley; the current poetry editor is Les Murray; several poems and stories are featured in each issue. The articles are often excellent, written with wit and insight, covering topics from the serious and academic to the light-hearted and trivial. Here's the intelligent response of one Quadrant reader:

Well, I vote for The Greens at both state and federal levels and I buy Quadrant.

As he points out in comments to that post, 'I don't think it's good policy to ignore what the other side is doing and thinking.'

If anything, I lean to the right, but I agree with Dean; it's stupid to ignore people that disagree with you. At worst, they might persuade you that they are right about some political points. This is why I sometimes read Overland, which describes itself as a 'leftish literary journal'. It's not just leftish, it's far to the left of the Labor Party. (Yeah, I know, that's a biased claim; but that was the overwhelming impression that I got when I read it a while ago, and since I can't remember the articles that gave me the impression, I'm going to have to leave it at that.*)
Personally, I find that both the content and the arguments fall short of Quadrant's standards, but again, it covers a wide range of subjects, the writing is skilfull, and literature features heavily.

The mainstream media is also biased. Generally speaking, the Fairfax papers, most prominent of them being The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, are left-wing. The Murdoch papers - most prominent being the Herald Sun, the Daily Telegraph, and The Australian - are right-wing. Mr Lefty implies, in comments to this post, that The Age is 'fair and balanced'. He's half-right; The Age is balanced, but unfair. In the names of balance, for instance, it might feature columns by an extremist like John Pilger. (In Australia, Pilger is most well-known amongst fringe organisations, such as readers of the Green Left Weekly, where he is regularly published). Given that Pilger's routine method is to employ inflammatory propaganda terms and to ignore the crimes of terrorist organisations like Hamas, the question has to be asked - why is he printed in major Australian publications at all?

This being said, the Murdoch papers are biased too. They offer some support to the conservative Governments in Australia and America (but, interestingly, they also support the Labour Government in Britain.) Broadly speaking, the perspective they offer is patriotic and nationalist; they supported the Iraq war; and they are pro-privatisation. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is another question entirely. Personally, I enjoy their columnists and reviewers (even in the Herald Sun, with the exception of Andrew Bolt). The standard of debate in the Murdoch papers is just as high - if not higher - than in the Fairfax papers, and they are frequently better formatted and wittier. The Herald Sun regularly tells us more in a single headline than a Fairfax writer might tell us in a paragraph.

***

So there you go: a biased view of media bias. As I said, I don't think that bias is necessarily a bad thing, and it's possible to be both biased and objective. But it's also worth being aware of the kinds of bias in the news media, both on screen, and in print.

UPDATE! - Turns out the ABC board are now all Howard Government appointees. I think my ex-ABC employee acquaintaince may have been referring to the middle management. What, you wanted me to do research for a blog post? Oh, bugger off!

*I'd like to see you guys do that in an academic essay, heh!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Absolutely Everything You Never Needed To Know About Modernism, Part 3

Auden was a great poet but a bad modernist. He kept on attempting obscurity and slipping into lucidity. He made rhymes accidentally, and poetry incidentally. He really couldn't help himself. His earlier poems seem to be deliberately difficult: it's as if he has to force himself to write like Eliot. His words keep on threatening to make sense. I like Auden; he's definitely not the most modern of the modernists (which to some of them may have been the most important thing), but he was certainly the most talented.
His themes are always interesting: he writes about the epic nature of teacups, and the heroic qualities of accountants. Maybe that was the difference between Auden and his contemporaries. Other modernists took the hero out of the man; Auden put the man back in the hero. He wrote about minor characters and their potential for greatness. Think about his miniature satirical masterpiece, The Unknown Citizen:

... had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.


In between writing the occasional masterpiece, Auden casually penned opera librettos, offhandedly put together verse dramas, and wrote the occasional bitchy sonnet about fellow poets:

Deliberately he chose the dry-as-dust
Kept tears like dirty postcards in a drawer;
Food was his public love, his private lust
Something to do with violence and the poor.

I'm as befuddled as anyone about Auden's earlier poems; at Uni I wrote a dissertation including analysis of his work with Benjamin Britten, Our Hunting Fathers: I still have no bloody idea what it's about. But his obscurity - and he could be very obscure - is often a teasing obscurity. And often, this obscurity itself has to be limited, for instance, by putting it in the mouth of a character:

Waking in her arms he cried,
Utterly content:
"I have heard the high good noises,
Promoted for an instant,
Stood upon the shining outskirts
Of that Joy I thank
For you, my dog and every goody."
There on the grass bank
She laughed, he laughjed, they laughed together,
Then they ate and drank:
Did he know what he meant? said the willow-wren;
God only knows, said the stare.

Which is all quite interesting, so far as it goes; the double meaning in the last line is particularly effective.
All in all, he was a smart cookie; sometimes, too smart. Nobody could understand what he was on about. But anybody who could write an entertaining, witty, and musical ten stanza poem about shit certainly had something going for him.

Next: how to become a modernist, in ten easy steps!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Read Your Need to Feed, or, Would You Like Pickles with Your Pixels?

Ella asks:

How about you, Concerned Reader? Do you prefer your litblogs with or without sandwiches?

The sandwiches here are a metaphor, of course, for something else; but hey - this is a litblog, and I'm a litblogger, what would I know about metaphors? Sandwiches, on the other hand, I do know about, and I know I definitely want to see some more of them on this blog.

So without further ado, dear readers - help yourselves!


Don't worry, there's plenty more pixels where that came from!


Be careful not to bump into the computer monitor when taking a sandwich:


If someone walks in and sees you gnawing at the monitor, you have my permission to shoot them!

Sandwiches! Sandwiches for all!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Wanted! Author Known To Be Engaging In Occult Activities ...

I received some reader feedback recently regarding a comment I made in this post regarding children's author P. L. Travers. I had read quite some time ago - possibly in the edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica at my parents house - that P. L. Travers was a member of a well-known occult organisation, which from memory I thought to be The Golden Dawn.

It turns out that there are a number of links on the web implicating P. L. Travers in The Golden Dawn, but nothing that proves she was involved.

So I thought I'd throw the question open to readers, who may be familiar with a good biography of Travers; readers who may be aware of secret occult messages hidden in her children's books; or readers who can fill us in on the history of The Golden Dawn.

WANTED

WANTED:

Information regarding a notorious children's author's involvement in early-twentieth century occult organisation The Golden Dawn

KNOWN FACTS ABOUT AUTHOR:
- Name: Helen Goff
- AKA P. L. Travers
- Author of Mary Poppins books
- Author of a biography of occultist
G.I. Gurdjieff
- Was known to have met poet and
Golden Dawn member W B Yeats.

THE QUESTION:
What proof do we have that P. L. Travers was actively involved in The Golden Dawn organisation?
THE IMPLICATIONS:
Who knows how many spiritualist messages could be hiding in the outwardly simple, naive 'Mary Poppins' stories?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Anyone Remember This?

I grew up in Balranald. It's a country town near the NSW/Victorian border that nobody has ever heard of. When I tell people that I come from Balranald, I usually end up telling them it's near Swan Hill (a country city smaller than most city suburbs) and Hay. Hay is a tiny country town which everybody seems to have heard of, probably because it's on the Hay plains. And yes, they are certainly plain.*

Balranald - the town - consisted of a couple of houses, a hundred-year-old boat ramp on the Murrumbidgee that had decayed into a few planks of wood that nobody had ever bothered fixing or junking, and near our house, a woolshed that no-one had cared to tear up, or do much with. Every month or so a guy named Bob Heddle would pull up in a truck, go into the shed, raise a bit of dust, and leave.
My brothers and I got friendly with Bob. For some reason, we gave him the name 'Wooly Williams', and would run out around his truck shouting that name out. Bob was something of an artist as well as a truck driver; he entered paintings into the local art competitions, and drew cartoons. Once he gave several of these cartoons to us, which we thought was pretty neat.

It might have been when Wooly Williams came around once that we were first introduced to the joys of Joliffe's Outback. It's hard to find much information about these comics - they're that obscure - but I seem to remember that, after having been introduced to Joliffe's Outback, we saw them everywhere. Eric Joliffe, the artist, must have been either senile or dead by the time we were introduced to the comics; the stories seemed to mostly be about the type of Australia that Henry Lawson or Banjo Patterson idealised in their bush ballads. They featured a stock set of characters, including Saltbush Bill, his wife, and various other farm hands and animals. The comics also contained pencil portraits done by Joliffe of various characters he'd met in the countryside; you could tell he was a good artist and draughtsman. Here's a Joliffe's Outback item on eBay at the moment - I sure as hell can't find a date, but you can tell it's pretty old.

So - anyone else remember this?

*If you ever want to get to Hay, just drive down the Hume Highway until you see nothing in particular, and keep on driving. You'll pass Hay at some point, but that's no reason to stop.


(Cross-posted here.)

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Review of a Second-Hand Book

... I found it in the dry corner of a shabby store in an abandoned suburb run by a dusty old Marxist, on a shelf clothed in spectacles and a beard. Isn't that how all stories start? Well, this one doesn't either.

***

In fact, I found it on the back wall of a large second-hand bookshop in Moonee Ponds, somewhere between the top shelf and bottom shelf. It was sandwiched between two or three Marcovaldos and one If, On a Winter's Night, a Traveller ... I hadn't read Invisible Cities for years, so I bought it.

Invisible Cities - as you may or may not know - is an ingenious book by Italo Calvino. The concept is simple: Kublai Kahn questions Marco Polo about his travels, and Marco Polo replies, in a series of small, sharp vignettes, telling the Khan fantastic stories about the cities he has visited. The stories are loosely grouped together by a series of themes: 'Trading Cities', 'Cities and Signs', 'Cities and Eyes'.



As the stories and the ideas develop, it becomes clear that, not only are the stories fanciful and fantastic, the loose theme around which the book is based - Marco telling stories to Kublai - bears little relation to some of the stories, which are often about twentieth-century cities, or even science-fiction cities (concepts alien to the world which Marco and Kublai inhabit.)

***

I sometimes wonder why more people buy new books at all. The only difference between second-hand books and new books is a few years. Why should something be better just because it's been published in the last two or three years?
People have been writing for thousands, probably tens of thousands, of years. Old books aren't necessarily better than new books, either - but they are more likely to be better ...

***

The book was covered in Contact: obviously it had been through a library.
A black-and-white price sticker on the back was dated 10/05/2006, for $15.37. It peeled off easily, revealing a yellow price sticker (used by a Melbourne University bookshop) underneath the Contact, dated 17/06/96, for $11.95.
Details on the back revealed the book was a New York imprint that had originally costed $7.95 (American) - the difference in prices, incidentally, says something about Australia's ridiculous restrictions against the parallel importation of books.

***

Here's how the book opens. Even in translation, it is beautiful:
Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his. In the lives of emperors there is a moment which follows pride in the boundless extension of the territories we have conquered, and the melancholy and relief of knowing we shall soon give up any thought of knowing and understanding them.
As it turned out, my copy of Invisible Cities had been previously owned by a student probably studying for his or her exams; they had gone through the book, underlying certain phrases - and more often than not, whole pages. They had made a number of extremely pedantic, very literal 'interpretations' above certain words. The word "Braziers", they helpfully inform me, are "metal receptacles"; and a planisphere, I am officiously told, is "a map of half the celestial sphere".
Some explanations are - I admit it - genuinely useful; others are bizarre and misleading: "Nubile girls", apparently, are "marriageable". And it's just plain irritating to be told - halfway through the book - that "hempen strands" are "made of hemp". Noooo!!!

***

But then, I guess that is the problem with second-hand books; more often than not, they come with a second-hand reader ...

Monday, May 29, 2006

Sarsaparilla

Sarsaparilla is a new group blog, "conceived as a kind of small-scaled and laid-back literary-arts-media forum, liberally infused with the most appealing attributes of the weblog form." In other words, it's about books, films and stuff like that. (You can see why I wasn't asked to write the general introduction.) The blog's line-up is very impressive, even if it does include the occasional shady character such as yours truly. (Yes, I am now involved in three blogs that I don't have time to write for.) So go, now! Read!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Books That Are Impossible To Illustrate

Some books must be impossible to illustrate. Imagine, for instance, being responsible for the illustrations in a book titled 'An Illustrated History of Nearly EVERYTHING.' You wouldn't know where to start.
Often, however, it is not the general nature of a title that would defeat you; it is the exact opposite. Imagine being asked to provide graphics for a book with so stiflingly dull a title as, say, 'The Income Tax Returns of 1989'. It would be like slow suicide. Elsewhere, MrLefty has noted the difficulties associated with illustrating the 'Law Institute Journal'.

The LIJ editor rings you with your assignment for this month. Joey Jo Jo, here's your assignment: I need a snappy illustration for the exciting May 2006 lead story. That story? "Targeting civil remedies - effect of consent judgments on third party contribution claims."

"Targeting civil re--"?! How the hell do you draw that? (There's a reason "effect of consent judgments on third party contribution claims" is not on a card in Pictionary.)
But it would be interesting to see other works of literature illustrated. A classic like Apuleius's The Golden Ass would be one thing, while the Greek fable Pandora's Box would be another thing altogether. The medieval carol I Have a Gentil Cock will probably never be published on its own, but there must have been several books published with the title Gay Paris. And how about being the cover artist charged with the task of illustrating Philip Roth's Kafka parody, The Breast:
Professor of comparative literature David Kepesh wakes up one day to discover himself in the hospital, having been transformed into a 155-pound female breast. The ensuing 89 pages depict his rationalization for such a sudden and drastic change, his trying to convince himself and others - his girlfriend, his father, his doctor, and a university mentor - that he has only gone insane, and his quest to satiate an ever-present, raging libido.
On the one hand, obscenity lies; on the other, obscurity: how to navigate your way between this artistic Scylla and Charybydis?
Still, consider what it would like to be asked to illustrate 'Lose Weight Through Great Sex with Celebrities the Elvis Way.' Any illustration of that would offend puritans, celebrities, and bulimics - a kind of unholy trinity. As a task, it would be marginally less easy than being asked to be the cover artist for 'The Best Fake Book Ever'. How do you illustrate a paradox? Either way, you'd end up looking like a liar.