I have them.
Thanks in large part to the novels of Philip Roth, I have begun constructing reading lists – broad surveys of streams of knowledge that I feel I should know about, towards which I feel a have, à la Trilling, a ‘moral obligation.’ It is Roth’s grasp of broad movements in modern American politics and history – a mastery he is not alone in possessing- that has made me only too aware of my woefully incomplete knowledge of the cultural, political and social history of my own country, Australia.
And so it is there that I begin, in Australia, at Australia’s beginning. Here is the first list, one that will take me some time to work through, one that is by no means exhaustive nor particularly canonical, but one that will certainly provide a broad spectrum of opinion that can be further refracted from white to black and everything in between:
Blainey, Geoffrey – “A Short History of Australia”
Clarke, Manning – “A Life”
Durack, Mary – “Kings in Grass Castles”
Facey, A. B. – “A Fortunate Life”
Flannery, Tim – “The Birth of Sydney”
Flannery, Tim – “The Birth of Melbourne”
Ginibi, Ruby Langford – “All My Mob”
Ginibi, Ruby Langford – “Don’t Take Your Love To Town”
Haebich, Anna – “Spinning the Dream”
Hill, Barry – “Broken Song”
Hill, David – “1788 – The Brutal Truth of the First Fleet”
Hirst, John – “Freedom on the Fatal Shore”
Hirst, John – “Sense and Nonsense in Australian History”
Hirst, John – “The Australians”
Jones, Philip – “Ochre and Rust”
Kenny, Robert – “The Lamb Enters the Dreaming”
Kennealy, Thomas – “Commonwealth of Thieves”
Morgan, Sally – “My Place”
Pilger, John – “A Secret Country”
Smith, Babette – “Australia’s Birthstain”
Tink, Andrew – “William Charles Wentworth”
More lists will follow as I construct them. Ambitious? Yes. Exciting? Absolutely.
Be careful what you wish for. It’s an admonition that for centuries has been dealt out by tarot reading gypsies, brewed from the breakfast silt of tea leaves, or more simply, gleaned directly from the skin of the would be Aladdin by purveyors of palmistry. For millennia it has served as a literary device: from Odysseus and the temptations of Circe, Trojan prince Paris’s catastrophic pride, down to the nightmare realisation of Victor von Frankenstein’s dream, and beyond, characters throughout history (both fictional and non) have constantly acted upon their desires with a thought only for the reward, sparing none for the consequences that their actions will bring them.
‘Be careful what you wish for’ can be found in the oldest literature right through to the most modern because it works; indeed desire is, hermeneutically, the ultimate cause to the effect of the Present: toxic was the apple for both Eve and Snow White.
‘Be careful what you wish for’ is a lesson that, if unlearned, can lead to all manner of turmoil. We are fortunate in that we are provided with endless pedagogical instruction with just this message at its heart. Most recently, there has been the stop-motion animation film, Coraline.
Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name by Henry Selick, Coraline is beautifully crafted: dazzling when it’s bright, eccentric when it’s odd, truly menacing when it’s scary, and absolutely charming for its entirety.
A small, quiet man, Polish author Bruno Schulz required little physical space to exist, and indeed seemed to prefer it that way – he left his birthplace only a handful of times. This is a trait shared by the literature he has left behind; it is unassuming – there it sits on my bookshelf, the tiny penguin on its spine showing the whites of its eyes, wide and fixed on the edge of its narrow perch. In his half-century of life Schulz produced two slim collections of stories, titled Cinnamon Shops (retitled The Street of Crocodiles in English translations) and Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. Along with several other short pieces published in various journals, these two constitute – a vast epistolary corpus aside- the bulk of his known literature. He worked between the shadows of two great wars.