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Know Hope or Know yourself

What is the best we can expect? Is it, as graffiti on a bridge over the Yarra advises: to “Know hope”, or is it to put hope aside and know where we actually are? I pose these two as alternatives because that is how they seem to me. Perhaps it is my quirkiness: But I […]

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Even the truest writing is false

Even the truest writing is false. It can’t be otherwise. Despite the best intentions, words fail. They carry our bias as much as our clarity. This is because writing is unnatural. To write well is to arrive with hands bloodied by platitudes, that is, to have been painstakingly selective with language. Such effort, while productive […]

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The past that haunts us

In Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, inconvenient truths are dealt with by erasure. It is a crude but effective measure and means that politicians out of favour are painted from the pictorial record. I witnessed something similar after the Tiananmen Massacre in Beijing when China’s rulers turned what had been a pro-democracy […]

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Literary sources of diagnosis

On the eve of the publication of the latest installment of the psychiatric bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), let me propose an alternative. No, not the ICD, International Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders, but rather what actor Hugh Grant told an American TV when badgered to ‘get counselling’. Grant’s […]

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The disjunction of death

We don’t tell the truth about life: you just have to look at the media to see that. But it is less obvious that we dissemble about death. I am not talking about the way death in our culture is sanitised; I am referring to an understanding of what it means for life to end. […]

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Progress

Progress is a funny thing. Not just because, as the French say, ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’, but because some aspects of us are resistant to updating. Despite my affection for vinyl, turntables and valve amplifiers, this does not appear to be true of music. Not only have the old […]

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What is good therapy?

What is good is nearly always confused with what succeeds, or what appears to work. But as the latest Hollywood conflation of good reveals, that is a marketing ploy. On the Road, based on Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel, posits good as synonymous with young, but despite being a good-looking film, it is self-adoring rather than […]

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What do we talk about when we talk about love?

Raymond Carver came up a memorable title for his 1981 collection of short stories. As a moniker, What do we talk about when we talk about love has it all. It points to the impossibility of coming up with exhaustive definitions of what we most value. Love, it tells us, is not a statistic, nor […]

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The Proust Questionnaire

At 83, a year before he died in 2007, the iconic North American writer Norman Mailer completed a questionnaire in the magazine Vanity Fair. The interrogation was called The Proust Questionnaire, and Mailer answered it with same respect for language and ideas that he bought to his novels. His responses are refreshing to read, not […]

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Depression

WHO KNOWS what pushes us over the edge? A middle aged woman I once interviewed said the depression that stole her life was a mix of childhood and genes. Parents who did not show her warmth or cuddle her set the scene, but it was not until she lost her job that she entered a […]