Book Review – ‘Atomised’ by Michel Houellebecq

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With Atomised, Michel Houellebecq positions himself as the proud torchbearer for the French intellectual tradition of being pessimistic about almost everything. But he also lives up to another proud tradition of being very funny about it. His characters bump into one another, half dazed and in a grey light of of self deception and pity. But no-one is completely unhappy. Each has a glimmer of hope and it is this glimmer that he doles out to us, like an existential bedtime story told by a lackadaisical parent to prevent their maudlin child from letting go of their grip on life during the night.  Read The Rest

Highest Way

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A Caltex truck destroying down the highway. Its silver horn riding high on the cabin, just above where its willing driver sleeps, pressed up against the roof next to the UBD and the hand held television. It tells him about things he has no use for on the road. Steak knives with chemical readouts, vacuum cleaners that spout steam, electric skin polish.

Traveling down the highway next to him, at a similar speed, through the corridors of bitumen cut through the hearts of mountains the sleek appeal of a designer curvy car and its stallion owner beeps along wishing his phallic expression was as big as the truck and full of its explosive liquid.

He likes to look down on the Maserati of the world, at the plush cream leather with precise sewing needle edge work. Spied from above their silver lives don’t look so big. Bald spots are sharper, coffee cups and coke bottles litter the back seat. His cabin is immaculate, his pride and real home. Fail to see the turn off and a small life with a nice car winks out with spectacular invisibility, stuck out somewhere surrounded by national parks and losing scratchie tickets.

The bridge, the turn off, the ghost gums and the thrumming seat that ripples up between his legs and through his arm hair. Birds fly above head because no one told them he was the definition of flying. Perched in his cabin, half sitting, half standing, it is he who invented freedom. Only he has the words and the eyebrows, one sparse the other bushy, to tell people about it and for them to believe it. Fuck off birds, this is what it’s about.

Truck stop porn and sausage rolls in plastic bags with a grid of tiny holes. Scrunch it up, it refuses to stay in its tight little ball, and quietly unfolds itself in the dark pit of the garbage bin next to the automatic doors.

‘Terrible accident up ahead,’ tells the other truckie.

‘Pile up. Six dead.’

‘Kangaroo on the road. Take it slow, mate. Take it slow.’

Whatever. A word he learned form his son. The TV guide is all I came for. The twisting of the knob on the hand held gets on his nerves. Better to know. More predictable, and better. Some business on the road doesn’t concern him. They can ask and write about it elsewhere. Far over the mountains and back at headquarters. Stubbies only ride up so high before they fold into the crotch. Sand gets everywhere.

 

Ways to live II – John Steinbeck, The Art of Fiction No. 45

A writer out of loneliness is trying to communicate like a distant star sending signals. He isn’t telling or teaching or ordering. Rather he seeks to establish a relationship of meaning, of feeling, of observing. We are lonesome animals. We spend all life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say—and to feel—

“Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.” Read The Rest

Spank Bank

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Is there anything worse, or better, than the prospect of being remembered in the dead of night by someone you never met, or once loved or only knew briefly? How simultaneously awful and heart-warming. What a salvation and turn off. Like a pair of bifocal glasses looking into the distance, half clear and half dense. Read The Rest

Ways to live I – John McCallum

We need to find a way of bringing together the discoveries of the post-dramatic theatre – that actual events in the shared space of performance have an immediacy that mimetic theatre can never hope to have – with the urgent need that we all still have to experience dramatic stories. We need to create in our theatre a new balance between actuality and representation… Read The Rest

That’s so totally random

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For a weekend in September 2010 I trekked out to Western Sydney to film a feature directed by Kathryn Millard. I was cast as the bland face of evil, a neatly dressed angelic looking young man with a voice that is as persuasive as it is forgettable.

The largely improvised scenes required my particular brand of evil to be kept a secret from the other cast members.  Repeating over and over that my unreasonable instructions had to be followed meant that over the course of the weekend I became summarily despised by some of Australia’s leading actors. Even the DOP gave me a few cold glances over lunch.

The result is the tense psychological mystery ‘Random 8’. The feature is currently entered in a number of international film festivals and you can now watch the trailer and witness for yourself the butter not melting in my mouth.

Louis – Draft One

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This is an excerpt from the first draft of my new play ‘Shangri-la’.

LOUIS: My Mum tells me things twice and doesn’t realise. It’s not a death sentence I know, but it’s not great. So far in my life, I’ve stopped believing in my parents, God, love and myself. I could try meditation but I keep forgetting to get a timetable from the community centre. They probably have a website.

There’s so much else to do though. People make movies in 3D and there are cats bred to look like mini tigers. They’re called toygers. They’re adorable but you can’t believe in them. You can believe they exist, because they do, but you can’t live your life around them. There’s a distinction.

They have those paint machines at the hardware store now that can colour match anything. You can take in a tube of toothpaste from your bathroom or an old hanky from your sock draw and then it’s  – boom – Colgate white or – zing – Grandpa Grey. But the computer doesn’t take into account what happens when there is a lot of this colour in a small room. I’m sure the algorithm is very advanced, within three decimals of accuracy, or whatever, but it can’t account for what will happen to the colour when it’s taken from this very real thing and made into liquid colour and then spread over a whole wall. It changes it entirely. Unless it’s a feature wall.

My hands are shaking.

Life is full of disappointments and I’m afraid this monologue is one of them. I don’t think neurotics should make theatre, but we seem to be the only ones interested in it these days.

If standing here fails, it’s all over. I can say good bye to my friends and family. I will have to move out of my house and cancel my library cards. I will give my clothes away to the Salvation Army and kids with sticky fingers will paw over all my old comic books. It will be the end. People from down the street will wonder what happened to that nice boy and there will be a redirection notice on all my mail with little yellow stickers that come from those reel printers with the stokes that Grace Brothers used to have. At my school reunion there will be just be a poster of me with a bad 90‘s haircut.

This is just me on this stage this is just me and my story and you and you listening. If I fuck it up then i’ll know. You might not cry or scream or walk away but things will change between us. It’s terrifying. Things will change and you will no longer be my friend. So here goes.

It’s Big and Scary – part two

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She had come to the park because on Thursday afternoons there was a man in a blue kaftan who told your fortune. He has many methods, but he is renowned for divining fate from the last paperback you’ve read. Millie hands over her collection of Canadian short stories and ignores his churlish eyes, keenly tuned to rat out any hint of pretension. He inspects the spine and the corners, the inside cover and the deep valleys between the pages. He smells the book. He balances it on his index finger and watches it with one eye, like she had seen a blacksmith do with a sword on a Lord of the Rings documentary. He hands her book back to her and tells her she is resisting the process.

But I haven’t done anything, she says.

With a sniff he gives back her book with her five dollars fifty and advises her to enjoy the sun while it was still out. She does her best to conjour an air of scandal and pulls on Bentley’s leash for a walk around the park. She doesn’t really care. She had been a believer in her youth, but today’s exercise was more about the motions and satisfying a long-standing curiosity about Blue Kaftan’s methodology. Millie considers herself satisfied and is happy for Bentley to choose their route around the park.

There is a large and vocal section of the population determined to convince her that she has no future. That the end is nigh and nigh-er. They walk through the city on Saturday mornings with green t shirts with a trident like footprint on the front*. Bentley sniffs the ground, but she lets it go by because it is a whole body length away from her.

She could go home, but there is no one there. She is in the habit of reminding herself that she wasn’t lonely, she was just alone and there is a distinction between the two. If she needed to talk there were people she could call. A whole list of people. She could even call Lachlan. They were both adults and had been through much worse than this. If he had done anything to hurt her, she hadn’t noticed. Facts about him remained factual and like a struggling DJ she ran the gauntlet of classic hits:

#1. We are very different people.

#2. He isn’t generous.

#3. He doesn’t ask me any questions.

#4. (with a bullet) He snores.

The park is green and has four paved paths that converge in the centre with a collection of feature bushes and perennials. The civic gardener had spelt something out with pansies but she couldn’t read it. What looked like bees tending the petals turns out to be blowflies. She turns around to look for Blue Kaftan. He has disappeared. Except for her and Bentley, the park is empty. She looks down to her pet pig^, who does what he is supposed to do, and makes her smile.

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* After the Beast’s initial attack, many people began living in the deep hollows of its footprints in the ground. Most of these dwellings have since become condemned, or converted into public schools.
^After the Beast’s attack, two well-known comedians stole piglets and gave them to the surviving population to cheer them up. Pet pigs remain a common custom to this day.

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