Monthly Archives: September 2009

Melbourne Writers’ Festival – Pt. 2


Okay, as usual a bit late with this round-up, but couldn’t let it slide.

I didn’t end up at any mid-week sessions mostly because of the Schools Program (which I hope Melbourne’s schoolkids never take for granted — my school back home didn’t even let us select our own books at the little library, while these kids get to listen to their favourite authors at a Writers’ Festival), but also because I did work in between.

So, the session that kicked off the rest of my Festival weekend was the session Writers, Readers and Dali. I had probably blown this session up more in my head than I should have, so it felt oddly flat. A bunch of us met at the National Gallery of Victoria’s plush Members’ room, greeted with champagne and an array of Australian art displayed on their walls. And the talk commenced with NGV curators talking about Australian art, and the Dalí exhibition currently on display till October. [I truly hope to write another blog post on the Liquid Desire exhibition — Dalí has always been one of my favourite artists, and this gallery exhibit has been intellectually riveting and a personally moving experience for me.] The session was invaluable in guiding me to more of Dalí’s writings — 3 of his autobiographies (oh yes, the man took himself seriously), a novel Hidden Faces and a sort of guide to artists called 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship. The last seems to be a bombastic and unbelievable elaboration of how, in order to be a true deliverer of the artistic muse, the artist must be born in Spain and have the first name Salvador. 😐 I do want to get my hands on a copy of all of these books though. Oh, when will I win the lottery?

The next session I attended was a regular Writers’ Festival kind with writers talking on their characters, called On the Edge. Some of the points raised were interesting, but the show-stealer was clearly Hitomi Kanehara whose recent novel Autofiction has garnered a lot of interest by the Japanese media for combining autobiography with fiction, taking the confessional memoir to a new level. Kanehara is first, just fascinating to look at. My first thought was “Ohmygod, she is skinny”, which I then thought was explained when she mentioned she had decided at a certain point to take on an eating disorder to portray her character more efficiently. And after, I was not sure it was an explanation at all. She also seemed surprised everytime someone wanted to ask her a question, which I found endearing — she had to communicate with an interpreter  the whole time, so the surprise may just have been natural. But there was just something very… still about her personality that made her interesting to watch. As I am normally a twitchy person, it may just have been curiosity. But Autofiction and Kanehara’s other fiction seem have a strong influence of Murakami in them, which makes me cautious, as I don’t think they are as complex. However, she’d definitely be one writer to keep an eye out for.

Next session — Put Your Hands All Over My Body. Erotica has become a recent interest of mine –  a friend of mine has an enthusiasm for Nin’s Delta of Venus that got me into reading more of the kind, and I have to admit, I am hooked. And boy, was I glad this session was at the Writers’ Fest, because the speakers made it worth my while. Apart from pointing me to the ways of a number of erotic writers I hadn’t yet heard of, the discussion raised a lot of questions I wanted answers to — for instance, did the speakers think there was any difference between pornography and erotica? Did women soften erotica (as claimed by the recent British magazine editor of Erotic Review, which you can find here)? Does sex for women have an association to guilt, which is why it makes for popular reading? The answers were diverse and emphatic. Linda Jaivin who sounds as bold as she looks (she has a head of bright red hair) believed there was no difference between porn and erotica, and the definitions seemed to revolve around the medium. She also believed women could be as sexual as men, and definitely capable of guilt-free sex. Nikki Gemmell was obviously the most reserved — she had the standard belief that erotica was more ‘tender’ and that women did tend to go beyond the sex more. Her cringe-worthy “Sex can be spiritual, transcendent” viewpoint clashed markedly with Krissy Kneen who responded with her belief that a complete human connection to another person is impossible — and she wasn’t being depressing, just realistic from her own experiences (I agree!). Krissy Kneen was one of the best finds of the festival, for me. More soft-spoken and very self-assured somehow, she endorsed Jaivin’s understanding of erotica. Kneen’s sex-drenched memoir Affection just came out, and I was queueing up with everyone else to get my copy signed. Kneen has a way with words that make your mind feel like it’s another sensory organ; it is quite delightful. For a fun evening, check out her blog FuriousVaginas.

The next day was a single session on Reading Essayistically, a philosophy talk that expounded on the ethics of reading in an open-ended way. I liked this session — Michelle Boulous Walker emphasised the idea that reading should orient readers (who become philosophers) in a horizontal way than putting him/her above it, in a vertical understanding. So there are possibilities of ethical spaces and relationships to what we read, instead of a finality of knowledge. And it prepares us to return to the text again and again, understanding it in a different way each time. A lot of the argument made sense to me, and particularly when an audience member raised the question of how universities regard essays, as sides that students take and formulate convincing arguments for. And Walker agreed that instead of open-ended ruminations, universities seemed to instituionalise knowledge. Open-ended reading however, was the way for readers even without an academic reading to become part of the processof knowledge, and that is where academic discourse should be heading. Walker quoted liberally from a number of philosophers I was unfamiliar with — Theodor Adorno, Emmanuel Levinas, Luce Irigaray, Simone Weil… I have a lot more reading to catch up on now.

The last day of the Festival saw me in two very diverse sessions – Raiding the Attic: Where do Creative Ideas Come From? and In the Name of the Father: Monotheism and Fundamentalism. Raiding the Attic had a diverse panel of artists – an installation artist, poet, writer and a visual artist. Interesting session, mainly because the intertextual nature of art was a core point of each artist, and when I asked them about the question of originality — something most journals or small publishers stress when inviting work — all were solidly i agreement that originality should never be the goal of a work of art. Sue Dodd mentioned that important ideas tend to recur, and that one must chase those ideas. All also endorsed the act of daydreaming as a form of work where ideas start to flow — always good to have an excuse. 🙂

The last session was on religion, as the name suggests, and Russell Grieg highlighted how religion has now tended to resurface because he examined it as an object of Freudian repression, and that manifested in the unconscious and would inevitably manifest itself in the public space at some point. People made the mistake of assuming that science was slowly eliminating the significance of religious phenomenon, but in reality it lurked in the collective subconscious and in times of difficulty would resurface as a defence. The session was not too bad, though I wish Grieg could have gone a little deeper in the half hour that he was allotted.

Phew! This took a while. as expected I have a pile of books yet to be read, and am significantly poorer than I had hoped. But I walked off towards my tram that evening feeling very rich intellectually. There is something of a festive atmosphere even in a Writers’ Festival, in that everyone seems so celebratory about things. It will be quite missed.

So hopefully next, I will try to post about the Dalí’s exhibition — even more hopefully, before it closes on October 4th.

And I am also peripherally involved in Deakin University’s Exposure festival, which depending on how it goes I may post on too. Ah, September feels like a slow month…