Reviewed by Glen Jennings

Australian-Foreign-Affairs-Oct-2017Launched in October 2017, Australian Foreign Affairs is a new journal that “seeks to explore – and encourage – debate on Australia’s place in the world and global outlook.” The inaugural issue, The Big Picture: Towards an Independent Foreign Policy, achieves this aim and sets a solid foundation for future discussions and debates. The Big Picture includes essays from leading academics Allan Gyngell, Linda Jakobson, James Curran and John Delury; an article on the changing face of Australia by one of our most thoughtful journalists and political authors, George Megalogenis; and an interview of strong opinion, clear analysis and memorable one-liners with former Prime Minister Paul Keating.

Towards an Independent Foreign Policy may seem a slightly misleading sub-title, since contributors argue that Australia should retain formal military alliance relations with the USA while being less willing to automatically “tag along” with our big and powerful ally. This is what Paul Keating meant when he said that Australia should “cut the tag” with the United States. (He is not as radical in his critique of Australia/US relations as former PM Malcolm Fraser became in his final years.) Canada and New Zealand provide models for this alliance without obeisance. These two nations, unlike Australia under Prime Minister John Howard, did not follow the USA into the Iraq wars. Fortunately, Australia, like other US allies in the South-East Asian region today, has so far resisted US encouragement to “send a message to China” by sailing warships through the South China Sea. Australian Foreign Affairs emphasises that Australia needs to take responsibility for our own actions. In Allan Gyngell’s words: “It’s not independence that Australian foreign policy needs, but substance, subtlety and creativity.”

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Pulau Sempu

November 29, 2017

By Sasha Cyganowski

Even though it is precisely within the world, in the brushing up against others, that good occurs.” Goenawan Mohamad.

As a Westerner, I found the precarious balance of life and death difficult to accept,” Birut Galdikas.

Pulau Sempu photo 2

Photograph by Sasha Cyganowski

Selamat Tahun Baru. Happy New Year. I love New Year’s Day, all fresh and new. Things will happen. Super exciting. I don’t understand the fervent celebrations of the night prior. The year is over, it’s in the past, let it go. I’m usually in bed and asleep by 9pm, looking forward to the new day, the new year. Nothing beats waking up on New Year’s Day feeling fresh, going for a run, maybe to the beach, and out for dinner. That is the time for a nice meal and a few cocktails.

All is quiet on New Year’s Day. Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.

So it was wonderful waking up in Yogyakarta to begin 2017 with a run, a satisfying Indonesian breakfast (a meal without rice is not a meal, according to Indonesians), and then a swim in the hotel pool surrounded by a gorgeous Javanese garden. Michelle and I were the only ones by the pool, with only a couple of pool attendants chatting at the far end. Between our sun lounges sat a table with a menu, complete will a built-in buzzer for attracting wait staff. Ingenious, I thought. After such a big breakfast I wasn’t really hungry, but was curious about the technology, and the more I thought about it the hungrier I became. So I settled on a coconut and pushed the buzzer. Silence. I looked excitedly towards the pool attendants. No reaction. Nothing.

“You didn’t push it hard enough.”

I tried again, holding down the buzzer a good couple of seconds. Still the attendants went on chatting.

“Maybe the second push cancelled the first one.”

I pushed the buzzer at least 20 times, doing my best Morse code imitation of “bring me a fucking coconut!”

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Retreat

November 29, 2017

By Dianne Siriban Armstrong

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Daragang Magayon, Photograph by Dianne Siriban Armstrong.

It is only March and I have decided that 2008 is already the worst year of my life. So I take up my friend Scheherazade’s long-standing offer to visit her hometown in the province of Albay, Bicol. I have fervent hopes that a few days away will—if only a little—disperse the dark, heavy clouds that have been hanging around me since the holidays. On the way, I decide that I’d like to take my very own photo of that “perfect cone-shaped” volcano we have always been so collectively proud of, despite having no hand at all in its perfection. The people of Bicol call her Daragang Magayon or Mayon. The beautiful lady.

It takes me two hours of weaving through dense traffic to get from Laguna to Manila. Then another twelve gruelling hours on a bus to Ligao City where Sche welcomes me to her family’s huge ancestral home in the town’s centre. We make time for a little celebration before I collapse in a tired heap in the guest bedroom. I wake up at a ghastly six AM the next day and haul my sleepy ass out by seven into her bright violet Pajero.

“Okay, so,” Sche says excitedly. “The tourist traps are for today and today only. We want to cover all our bases, y’know.”  She steps on the gas and I scramble to buckle my seat belt. “Then,” she continues without missing a beat. “We’ll do the ‘anti-tourist’-tour’ for the rest of your stay.” She winks.

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Iago’s Silence

November 29, 2017

By Rod Beecham

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From the production of Othello, at Pop-up Globe, Melbourne, October 2017. Photograph by Jennifer Mitchell

[The secondary literature on Shakespeare is unmanageably vast, and what follows does not pretend to be informed by it.  I am merely recording some thoughts I’ve had from teaching Othello in 2017.]

Othello, unlike Shakespeare’s other major tragedies, is a play in which the title character does not have the most lines.  That distinction belongs to the villain, Iago.  As those familiar with the play know, speech is the medium of Iago’s villainy: he furthers his designs through dialogue rather than action.  I have always been struck, therefore, by his last speech: ‘Demand me nothing; what you know, you know. / From this time forth I never will speak word.’ (V.i.300-01).

What is the significance of Iago’s silence?  He tells his outraged listeners: ‘what you know, you know.’  What do they know?  I take Iago to mean that what he has done has been discovered and, that being the case, there is nothing more to be said.  Gratiano responds that, ‘Torments will ope your lips’ (V.i.303), suggesting that Iago will reveal the reasons for his behaviour under torture, but we in the audience who have followed the action cannot believe that, for what more is there for Iago to reveal?  He made ‘the net / That shall enmesh them all’ (II.iii.339-40) out of his own envy and spite, and these are not feelings that can be assigned to specific causes: they are the essence of his nature.  Iago did what he did because he was Iago.

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Poems

November 29, 2017

By Mike Heald

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‘Shock and Awe’

My son at that time, when the sky

above the children of Baghdad

began to flash and boom, was five,

and still afraid of storms.

When thunder rumbled he’d run

from his room to mine, a drum-roll

of his small feet across the floor-boards before

the silent finale of his dive through the air

to safety in my bed…

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For those of you who are new to Steep Stairs Review, this journal is a collection of diverse and eclectic works featuring academic and creative contributions from Trinity College staff and external submissions. We see Steep Stairs Review as the basis for a forum of discussion of literary art, creative outputs, contemporary politics and anything and everything in between. As such, it is perhaps arbitrary to confine the submissions into an all-encompassing topic. However, if there is an overarching theme to this edition, it would perhaps be discussion of literary marginalities and an examination of approaches often overlooked by traditional analysis and categorisation.

To begin this issue, in an interview with Jennifer Mitchell, Rjurik Davidson discusses the necessity of genre evasion and the importance of destabilising traditional narrative tropes in his elucidation of the ‘New Weird’. This is followed by Unwrapped Sky (2014) and The Stars Askew (2016) by Rjurik Davidson:  An inexpert review, exploring the Pleasures of the Text, a review by Jennifer Mitchell of Rjurik’s latest works in the Caeli Amur Trilogy. Continuing the concept of ‘weirdness’ and anti-conventionality, Negin Ghodrati in Let Them Believe, Legion of Despair and the accompanying illustrations presents whispers and vistas portraying post-apocalyptic dimensions.

Next, Mike Heald considers philosophical positions in his review, The Vegetarian, by Han Kang: a Philosophical Perspective, in whichthe main character, Yeong-hye, experiences the sudden onset of a revulsion towards eating meat, brought on by dreams, and then tries to live out a compulsion to become a tree, or as [philosopher Michael] Marder might put it, to attain an ontophytological state”. After that, Talitha Fraser in Living Under The Veil photo essay “seeks to invite exploration of the layers, applied internally and externally, at personal, public and political levels through an exposition of the veil and its religious significance”.

This volume continues with The psychiatric beach read: Anti-Social Personality Disorder in commercial fiction by Susan Karpasitis and Fetishism in Cinderella and the Impotence of Prince Charming by Cara Burgio, who respectively consider emergent psycho-literary approaches to texts that address the fascinating, yet widely overlooked applications of personality disorders and fetishisation to popular fiction. Next, Nazanin Ghodrati, in Eyes, engages in an obsessive-compulsive monologue that serves as a response to the existential explorations by Sadegh Hedayat in one of the major literary works of 20th century Iran, The Blind Owl.

This volume concludes with a collection of poems by Rod Beecham, Talitha Fraser, and Danny Fahey (To Vanish, Fragments in the dreamingLamentations, Two Women, One Child And The Judgement, and The Prodigal Son) capturing intimate moments of yearning, loss, regret and disembodiment.

Thanks to our contributors and to our readers both established and new.

Steep Stairs Review Editors,
Nazanin Ghodrati and Susan Karpasitis

Written by Jennifer Mitchell


Click here to listen to Jennifer’s interview with Rjurik, touching on destabilising genre in the publishing industry, writing across the borders of literature and fantasy, and how reading about fantasy worlds can lead us back into our own world with new and important questions.

jenScience-fiction fantasy (SFF) isn’t a genre I am really familiar with – if I was this would be a very different review. For it to have legitimacy among experienced readers of new-weird fiction I would really need to be well-versed in the field, intimate with the seminal works and the weighty lexicons and tropes of its mistresses and masters. But I am not, alas. So this is a mainstream review of another kind, inspired by and grounded in reading and being sensually immersed in the pleasures of the text.

And what dark addictive pleasures there are in both these novels for those who like their reading to be engaging and entertaining, but also mentally stimulating. Unwrapped Sky is a writerly text[1] in that it requires active reading, and there is a lot in both these novels to get your head around, but the work does pay off for readers who willingly open their senses to the new, but also uncannily familiar worlds and characters found laid out here with sophisticated depth and some stunningly beautiful language. After the first half of Unwrapped Sky, however, what could be seen as hard work transformed, for me, into sustained enjoyment.

Unwrapped Sky opens with a sublime sensual experience – the descent into, and passing through the coastal city of Caeli-Amur of over three hundred minotaurs – arrived for a festival in their honour. As they spread out into the city streets and we follow behind their huge shaggy heads and ridged horns, we meet the city’s inhabitants of various castes in their seedy haunts, including the key protagonist, Kata, a young philosopher-assassin who is compelled by her powerful instinct to survive to act in ways that betray her humanity. In Kata we meet a character whose moral and personal crisis mirrors the restlessly moving layers of political ideals and plots, planes of perception and existence, states of life or death, of gaining and losing power that structure this at once modern and ancient metropolis.

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Let Them Believe

October 15, 2016

Written by Negin Ghodrati

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by Negin Ghodrati

Laugh at me with that amorphous mouth
Let me see once again what you’re truly made of
Look into my deep, tenebrous eyes
Come entertain me with thy iridescent lies
Speak of those who “illuminate and shine”
But sweetest, there is no darkness more abhorrent than thine.
Allow me to send this stealthy shiver down thy spine:
Imparting my wisdom of the real light, of thy supposed “divine”
Stand right there, stand with that menial grin
Keep on believing that thy ominous face would make me fear
But sweetest, there is some noxious news for you right there:
I shall fear no more, I shall not shed one single tear.
When the night befalls and the gibbous moon prevails
Let us both look into what this little tune entails
Let us keep pretending that you do know and I do not
Let us live eternally behind this abominable veil.

__________

Negin Ghodrati is a Master of Arts graduate in English Literature from the University of Oslo. Her primary interests include any work done on the subjects of “the unknown” and “cosmic horror.” Her Master’s thesis focused on the creation, evolution and aftermath of Lovecraftian horror wherein an academic effort was made to further familiarise the reader with H. P. Lovecraft and his grotesquely sublime universe of horror.

Legion of Despair

October 15, 2016

Written by Negin Ghodrati

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by Negin Ghodrati

 

The hums of drums in our ears
We rush into the distant battlefields
With our meager bodies wandering around
Amid the frozen moors of broken dreams
We are put in lines, we are marching forth
The war is upon us, we then blow our horns
As the horns moan their ashen sighs
We raise our swords of dust into the skies
Praying the “Lord of Death” to take us far
Far away from these filthy fields of lies
We crawl and moan, we cry and scream
The battle shall begin soon indeed
We are the legion of corpses, the horde of worms
We creep and crawl, we blow our horns
We march together to our ancient battlefield
Where we lay our rotten bodies on the ground
We shall be buried in the ashes of our hopes
Waiting eternally for our imaginary foes.

__________

Negin Ghodrati is a Master of Arts graduate in English Literature from the University of Oslo. Her primary interests include any work done on the subjects of “the unknown” and “cosmic horror.” Her Master’s thesis focused on the creation, evolution and aftermath of Lovecraftian horror wherein an academic effort was made to further familiarise the reader with H. P. Lovecraft and his grotesquely sublime universe of horror.

Written by Mike Heald

‘I believe that humans should be plants’ – Yi Sang

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By coincidence, I was deeply immersed in the philosopher Michael Marder’s project of ‘dismantling our deeply rooted [pun noted] metaphysical legacy’ with regard to plant life, as David Wood (puns coming thick and fast) puts it in his back cover endorsement of Marder’s Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life [1], when I heard about this novel The Vegetarian, winner of the Man Booker International Prize for 2016. Marder’s overall contention is that our metaphysics has left us with ways of regarding plants which are radically reductive, invalidly and potentially disastrously excluding them from such vital categories as ‘life’ and ‘intelligence’. A novel, therefore, in which a woman experiences the need to become a tree was always going to get my attention.

In the novel, the main character, Yeong-hye, experiences the sudden onset of a revulsion towards eating meat, brought on by dreams, and then tries to live out a compulsion to become a tree, or as Marder might put it, to attain an ontophytological state. The beginning of Yeong-hye’s first dream is as follows:

Cold. Across the frozen ravine, a red barn-like building. Straw matting flapping limp across the door. Roll it up and I’m inside, it’s inside. A long bamboo stick strung with great blood-red gashes of meat, blood still dripping down. Try to push past but the meat, there’s no end to the meat, and no exit. Blood in my mouth, blood-soaked clothes sucked onto my skin. (12)

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