The Lifted Brow: Capital Issue

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The Lifted Brow is a self-described ‘quarterly attack journal’ that prints stories, essays, poems and comics by talented young artists from Australia and overseas.

I first read this magazine in 2013, when I was given a canvas bag full of issues as part of a short story prize. They were printed like old-fashioned newspapers, frail A3 sheets without staples. Although I made it through a few interesting pieces, the format was too impractical for me to handle. After learning that I could order the newest Lifted Brow for whatever price I wanted, I decided to give the journal another chance and bought a new copy for four dollars. The presentation has been radically improved, now The Lifted Brow is a cardboard paperback with all the pages glued to a spine, just as they should be. It’s great.

Usually in Australian literary journals, the creative non-fiction bits are the best part. Fiona Wrights There’s No Dirt in my Food was an insightful look into how nutrition and morality have become entangled in popular culture, and the disturbing health outcomes such thinking can lead to. Scott Esposito’s review of a Bansky film that danced on the edge of the viewer’s disbelief was appropriately mindboggling, at times to Borgesian levels. And while I found Daniel Levin Becker’s detailed attempt to explain Kanye West entertaining, I think I know the solution. I’m fairly certain Kanye is bipolar.

The fiction was pretty good, too. Allee Richard’s Australian story was a satirical fake autobiography of Bindi Irwin, exploring her rise to fame and the crucial role remembering her father’s death has in that fame. Bindi is never explicitly named, probably for legal reasons, but the slightly blasphemous defamatory nature of the whole thing was delicious. There was an extract from Cesar Aire’s novel Ema the Captive, describing the financial dealings between an American fort and the local native tribes with a slightly Magical Realist atmosphere, which was also pretty good, though not as fun as the Richard story.

Poetry and comics were also contained within this edition of The Lifted Brow, and neither did much for me. Finding poems I like is hard, the best way I can describe it is like finding a good novel in a world where novels aren’t classified by genre or ascribed to authors. Reading poetry is always going to be a gamble, and for me it’s rarely worth the effort. The comics weren’t bad, but as an avid reader of American superheroes I feel that there’s something missing when a comic story focuses on mundane day-to-day matters. Australian comics always seems to be either realistic or inaccessibly avante-garde, and while there’s a place for both of those qualities in comics, I really wish we had an iconic graphic novel about a protagonist whose name ends with ‘man’. Someone needs to make a book about Condoman so daring and insightful that it wins a bunch of prizes and triggers an important National Conversation about whether graphic novels count as Literature. That’s what I want for the Australian comic scene. The comic stories The Lifted Brow had were good, but they don’t have what I look for in comics.

If The Lifted Brow offers future issues on a name-your-price basis, I’ll get them. I wouldn’t pay the recommended retail price though, not because I don’t think it’d be worth it, but because my finances are far from what they should be. Were I to have more money I’d probably read more Australian literary journals. I like Meanjin and I’ve tried Southerly, but there’s a few others that deserve my attention.

You, on the other hand, ought to check out The Lifted Brow, if you’re interested in supporting young Australian artists. You can buy it here.

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Tomorrow Is Today – Various Artists

leda037Tomorrow Is Today is a two disc compilation of psychedelic Australian tunes from the Sixties. Although if you do end up downloading this one, the disc part will become irrelevant.

This collection is a companion to a book of the same name. I haven’t read it, but now I feel that I should.

My favourite song is Natalie, by the Sand Pebbles. Lots of guitar and a bit of reverb, but I’ll admit that I don’t actually know what that means. Would make a great theme song for an absurd action film.

The Great Ape’s History’s Monsters is another fantastic tune. Great rhythm, and vague lyrics that carry a sense of urgency. Maybe it could be on the soundtrack for a Western.

Ian D. Marks’ King Of The Mountain is about a solitary man with delusions of grandeur. I always imagine the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk when I hear this song. Even though he lived on some sort of cloud.

With forty great songs, Tomorrow Is Today is great value even by the standards of freely and legally downloadable music.

Amnesia – Peter Carey

22930198A left-wing journalist is recruited by a dubious property developer to write the biography of a hacker, who recently created a virus that released every prisoner in America and Australia. You’d think such a premise would lead to a cyber-thriller, but instead Peter Carey weaves around the concept a disjointed meditation on Australian political history, its resentful relationship with America and social alienation.

I call Amnesia disjointed because while there are many sequences that would make fine short stories on their own, as a whole the novel feels like a shaggy dog story. When I finished it, I thought to myself, ‘Sure, that was fun Peter Carey, but what was the point?’ My favourite sequence was the part where an Australian girl is impregnated by an American serial killer before the Battle of Brisbane. The last third of the book, which was a tense family drama a federal Labor MP, his bohemian wife and their hacker daughter, was also excellent. Narrated in first person, Amnesia is presented as the text written by the journalist as he tries to make sense of these stories and how he can use them to humanise the hacker. It is his subplot that is weakest, and it is Carey’s failure to give his story a satisfactory conclusion that undermines the novel as a whole.

About a third of the way through the novel Carey abandons the quotation mark completely. This begins when the journalist is listening to the tapes he’s meant to write a book about, so I’m guessing that the reason for their absence is that real life speech doesn’t include punctuation marks. Still bothers me. I like knowing where the dialogue ends and the narration begins.

You’ll get more out of this book if you’re Australian, particularly if you’re familiar with Gough Whitlam and the circumstances in which he lost power. Even more gratifying, the subplot about the MP’s family was set in a part of Melbourne with which I’m very familiar. Growing up on a steady diet of American and British media, I’ve come to accept that New York is a magical place where Spiderman swings from skyscrapers while London is attacked by aliens every Christmas. Meanwhile in Amnesia one of Carey’s characters runs down College Crescent, a street that I’ve actually walked on. Now that’s actually authenticity that means something to me!

If you’re some sort of overseas Aussiephile looking for your hit of Australiana, you might find it here. The journalist does most of his work in a shack in Bacchus March, and the narration takes note of the all the picturesque birds that live there. The part about the MP’s family is a fairly accurate portrait of Carlton. And the characters talk like actual Australians. But the main thing that this book will teach you about Australia is Carey’s opinion of the nation’s politics – you might find that interesting.

I’ve read The True History of the Kelly Gang, Exotic Pleasures, and now Amnesia, but so far I haven’t read any book that justifies Carey’s massive reputation. I enjoyed the last two books, so I’m still willing to give him another chance. Amnesia is a book for Australians old enough to remember Gough Whitlam, Zork fans and anyone smart enough to wrap their heads around the nested narratives of Frankenstein or Tristram Shandy.

Woop Woop: The Aussie Hogwarts?!

JK Rowling has revealed that there are magical schools in the Uganda, Japan, Brazil, and the United States. Including these and Hogwarts there are eleven altogether. JK Rowling has hinted that one also exists in Australia, and because I’m feeling a bit bored today I’ll make some guesses as to what this school looks like.

The Australian school’s name needs to sound regional. It is likely that it could carry a name derived from an Aboriginal language, something not unlike Canberra or Mildura. I’d be particularly happy if school’s name was actually a rude word, like how Moomba apparently means ‘Up your bum!’ On the other hand, the American school is called Ilvermorney, and that doesn’t sound particularly Native American to me. So we could go with any old boring English name, like Kilworth or Templeton or even something really dire like Grumpool. Personally speaking, I’d name an Aussie magic school Woop Woop, which Wikipedia describes as an ‘Australian term meaning far away from anything of interest’ – exactly what wizards would want muggles to think of their schools.

But where, exactly, is Woop Woop? I think I remember reading somewhere that Rowling says that wizard schools are placed far away from anything that would interest a muggle, like in mountainous regions, but in Australia we do things a little differently. And by that I mean that Woop Woop is located in the heart of Australia’s cultural capital, Melbourne.

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Here is a picture of Woop Woop, which the muggles amongst you will recognise as Coop’s Shot Tower at Melbourne Central. Melbourne Central is this bizarre shopping centre/train station hybrid that challenges all the laws of architecture by containing a tiny brick building within itself. You walk into this futuristic cubey thing, be astounded by the crowds of superfluous people, escalators, a giant clock being humped by two koalas and on the ground floor there’s this brick tower that looks as though it dates from the gold rush…. Don’t tell me that isn’t some Harry Potter shit right there.

But how does a school’s worth of children fit within Coop’s Shot Tower? The answer is so obvious it’s insulting – magic, of course! You remember Diagon Alley, that occult ghetto from Philosopher’s Stone? Woop Woop works on a similar principle, with its internal space somehow unfolding to the point where it can fit all the people it needs… it doesn’t make any sense, did I say magic? And the twenty-five basements under the tower certainly help as well.

Oh, and while I’m describing the school’s physical appearance I should also mention that the clock-humping koalas are also the unofficial Woop Woop guardians. You try and blow up the school or something and those seemingly stoned marsupials will bite your head off like you was a lollipop. I’m sorry, but there IS a War On Terror going on.

What do they teach you at Woop Woop and how does their curriculum differ from that of Hogwarts? The Guardian article suggests that the school’s teachings somewhat reflect their location, so I’m guessing Woop Woop kids excel at weather magic, which they mainly use to direct rain clouds away from muggle farms. And being so flamboyantly occult in the major muggle metropolitan of Melbourne means that they need to be good at invisibility in order to get anywhere without funny looks. Between that and the fact that Australians wizards have been forced to develop anti-mosquito and anti-sunburn shields, nudity is always an option. In some ways, Wizarding Australia is a post-fashion society.

And if you’re an Aussie Harry Potter fan still waiting for your Hogwarts acceptance letter, it’s time to give up! For Woop Woop sends no letter, nor any warning. What happens is that you’re living your ordinary life, writing for your beloved book blog or staring at Seek.com until it vomits a lucrative editing career, when there’s a tap at your window and you look up and there’s a flying tram there! The Woop Woop Tram (pictured above) is Australia’s answer to the Hogwarts Express. The tram attendants (also pictured above) are the souls of drunk bushrangers who sold their souls to wizards shortly before their execution, and they’ll be the ones to explain the situation to you. They’ll offer to let you into the wizarding world…. and they’ll only do it once!

But it’s now time to talk about wider Aussie wizarding culture! It’s main notable characteristic is how it makes forgetfulness a virtue. Muggleborn children newly recruited into the culture are lovebombed, and encouraged to drink large amounts of forgetfulness potion until they cannot remember their mundane origins. That they are forcibly removed from their families and billeted with foster parents helps with the forgetfulness. With muggleborn and pureblood wizards effectively indistinguishable from eachother, it’s perhaps not surprising that a love for the forgetfulness potion is widespread within Australian occult society. I mean, whenever something bad or shameful happens in Australia these guys just have another chug of their potion and remain convinced that they live in the best nation state on the face of the Earth. This mass forgetting has been going on for so long that magical Australia’s history has been winnowed down to a single event: Anita Zachery’s disastrous 1915 encounter with the Cyclops of Troy. Now please, remember that I am merely describing the cultural milieu in which Woop Woop exists, not judging it. For I know well that choosing to regularly consume large amounts of a liquid famed for its deleterious effect on memory, motor skills and inhibition is a Very Sensible and Adult thing to do.

Anyway, if the previous paragraph was not enough of a clue, Wizarding Australia is only slightly to the left of Lord Voldemort. They sympathize with his motivations and admire his passion, but think him too impatient. The chief question of wizarding societies in all nations is ‘How do we interact with the bloody muggles?’ Judging by Harry Potter, magical humans are defined by a combination of godlike powers and a pathological need for obscurity. This somehow makes equal coexistence with muggles impossible, with hints that witch-hunts are inevitable once muggles know about magic. The people Harry Potter aligns himself with regard muggles with benign condescension while Voldemort’s lot are more straight-forward with their contempt. The culture around Woop Woop is somewhere between those extremes. While they don’t run around lynching muggles, they would regard their extinction as a positive. Really, most of the Woop Woop kids are fine with muggles provided that they remain the butt of their jokes.

What else can I say about the Woop Woop… for some reason they’ve copied all the houses of Hogwarts, except they’ve replaced Hufflepuff with Yahoo Serious. And for fairly obvious reasons, people overseas don’t like to think about this school too much.

The Secret Lives Of Men – Georgia Blain

413SUECPlNL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_Thirteen stories, about love, hope, regret, fear, and all orbiting around introspection. We encounter dog-walkers, tourists in India, inspirational speakers, cancer patients and many other extraordinary ordinary people. The author’s intent is exploring exactly what it is that makes these people tick, and what circumstances could break them.

I don’t think it’s entirely fair of me of to review this book. I’m far from its ideal reader, being more enthusiastic about Plastic Man and selkies than exploring human nature. (Still, at least I’d be more relevant than this guy.) I’m human. I’ve been dealing with other humans all my life. If there’s a book that’s going to show more anything about humanity that I don’t already know, it’s certainly not going to be fiction.

Still, I like Blain’s prose style. And her characters seem like people I could actually meet, and while that disengages me, it shows that she’s a better writer than I am. While her stories don’t give you the entire picture of her character’s lives, they tell you enough.

I’ve found such introspection to be a real theme in Australian literary fiction. Profundity seems to come in the form of middle-class people thinking about how dull and miserable their lives are. I don’t really go for that sort of thing, myself. I prefer comic action with a pinch of surrealism.

Blain is at her best when she captures a realistic situation that her audience would be unfamiliar with, yet recognise as plausible. ”Enlarged + Heart + Patient” is about a girl with a chronic condition and her parents dealing with hospital life, and how they tolerate the entertainers and AFL players who come to cheer them up. It resonated with me, having heard similar tales from relatives. ”Big Dreams” is about a woman’s hesitant attraction to an inspirational speaker, the chief tension being how sincere he is. I enjoyed this one because I honestly have no idea what goes on inside the mind of an inspirational speaker, and I’m glad that Blain tried to guess. Blain could’ve teased this concept out into a longer piece, or even a screenplay.

Since, I’ve carried on about not being the ideal reader of the Secret Lives Of Men, I may as well say I why tried it. I acquired the book, amongst many others, as a prize for winning second place at a short story competition two years ago. It was in a bundle from the publisher Scribe, who i should thank for encouraging such competitions. The reason I read it recently was my thesis, on masculinity. Judging by the title, I figured it would have some insights about the matter.

And another thing, there’s one story where the main couple have the same names as my parents. Urk!

I wouldn’t recommend this book to me or someone with my tastes. I’d recommend this for fans of Australian literary fiction, ABC dramas, and those who are morbidly fascinated by inspirational speakers.

Songman – Allan Baille

Fair Use.

Allan Baiillie’s Songman is about a young Aboriginal boy who travels with Indonesian merchants to the city of Macassar, long before Captain Cook reputedly discovered Australia. I like how Baillie switched between third and second person when discussing the protagonist’s thoughts. With convincing characterisation, solid research, and a focus on a neglected setting, I recommend that anyone who can acquire this book should read it.