Excerpt: ‘Geoengineering: How to Fall in Love with Your Snow Globe World’, by Michael Dulaney

Until a century ago there persisted a scientific belief, propagated by leading scientists like evolutionist Thomas Henry Huxley, that nature was inexhaustible and that no human endeavour could deplete or even reduce the north western Atlantic fishing stock. As late as 1885, the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture declared that “unless the order of nature is overthrown, for centuries to come our fisheries will continue to be fertile.”

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'Looking for Paris' by May Ngo

Photo by Mads Schmidt Rasmussen

“Paris may be a capital famous for cosmopolitan exiles, but it is also a city where unknown men and women have spent years of miserable loneliness: Vietnamese, Algerians, Cambodians, Lebanese, Senegalese, Peruvians.”
—Edward Said, Reflections on Exile (2000)

The metro doors shut behind me. I cling to the passenger pole in the centre of the carriage as people push past, step on my toes, crowd into the space. I can’t breathe in here. I wonder again why I live in a city, why this city. Close my eyes to block out sight; but sound, smell, touch, invade the senses instead. Especially sound. Snatches of conversations, the whoosh of doors opening and closing, loud American voices. And then…the strains of a melody played by a lonely keyboard, so out of place not because it’s music, but because of the tune it’s playing. I look over to where it’s coming from but can’t see the player. Too many people crowding the carriage, too many backs of heads. All I can do is follow the sound.

The music continues, lamenting, lamenting. A voice picks up the strain. It’s so different to what is usually heard on the metro that others turn to look. Parisians are used to people busking in the carriages of the metro. Not only buskers, also beggars. Sometimes there is no difference: a young man, barely a man, with a stereo blaring out techno music, dancing to it and then going through the carriage to collect money. Is that busking or begging? The voice is singing in another language, a man’s voice. It cracks and strains and reaches out over the metro noise like a prayer. Like a call to prayer in a mosque. Do I find it poignant because so many buskers and beggars in this city are foreigners, like I am? Not only in exile from their own country, but also living in exile in this city; occupying a separate stratum: same city, same metro. Another world.

The carriage stops and the doors open. It’s La Muette. Most people get off, including the bearer of the music and the voice. I don’t see who it is but I imagine he is a foreigner. Like me, but not like me. I imagine that he will move on to the next carriage to start again, or perhaps wait for the next train. He will do this over and over, all day before returning ‘home’. I wonder if he has a family, or if he came over here alone. What was his homeland like. People get on and off, but he is always in transit, playing his music; always between stations.

As you travel on the metro from one end of the line to another, you notice the difference in how people dress themselves. For example, the line 9 goes from the wealthy bourgeois west of Paris where you will pass through the 15th and 16th arrondissements of La Muette and Trocadero, the site of many Embassies and within walking distance to the Eiffel Tower. Mingled with the tourists (in their comfortable sports shoes, t-shirts, cameras and unsightly parkas) who get off at these places, you can find Parisians who epitomise the stereotype: expensive handbags, designer clothes, slim, fashionable.

As the line passes through central Paris, the change is imperceptible at first but gradually, the clothes change, as do the people who wear them. People of different sizes and colour board the train. More sports shoes. Hooded sweaters. Not a designer handbag in sight, unless it’s a knockoff. Line 9 ends in the poorer eastern suburbs of Paris where a lot of immigrants and diverse communities live, though increasingly you have the bobos (bourgeois bohème: the hipster, organic-food loving, artsy version of a yuppie) encroaching and hiking up rent prices in areas that used to be poor; the kind of gentrification that happens everywhere now.

In a way, the metro is a great social leveler as people from all social classes use it. But in other ways, it reflects the existing social stratification in the city by the stations in which people stop off—or in terms of the buskers and beggars, those who never get off.

The internet is adrift with endless blogs by (white) anglophone expats who have made their home here, mostly American and English, who seem to be living and espousing that well-rehearsed story about Paris that is quaint, cultured, exotic. Their lives are spent surrounded by cheese, wine and summers in the countryside, gallery visits and sitting in cafés. Reading these blogs, I realise that Paris represents something in the imagination for a lot of expats who come to visit or live here. It’s as if Paris has been sprinkled with magic fairy dust, where a life less ordinary and more whimsical can be lived (think of the movie Amélie), where you can almost be trapped in a time or cultural zone. Exotic, but at the same time not too exotic as to be completely alien to the anglophone expat—after all it is still Europe.

The archetypal Parisien is still imagined to be a white person. Even when the reality of Paris includes high levels of immigration, diverse ethnic quarters ¬and a working class you can see immediately once in certain areas of the city but also outside of Paris, particularly in the sprawling concrete banlieues, the suburbs. Why can’t the reality sear itself into our imaginations of this city? Why do we cling on to a particular dream of Paris?

When the Paris attacks occurred in November 2015, many in the media touted it as an assault on French culture and values. It was not only the extreme brutality of what happened in the attacks that struck a chord with many Westerners—it was the fact that it happened in Paris and what this city represented, for its residents and for the rest of the world. The fact that the attacks mainly targeted the 10th and 11th arrondissements, the gentrified areas inhabited by mostly progressive middle-class young hipster bobos, was, according to one journalist, evidence that the terrorists were aiming to attack ‘the embodiment of French insouciance and joie de vivre’. And as reiterated by a resident who was interviewed in another article, ‘we feel that what was attacked is youth, freedom but also more specifically, smoking cigarettes with a beer on a terrace in Paris, which pretty much equals our daily life’. This was further echoed in a comic that was widely shared in the aftermath of the attacks by Charlie Hebdo artist Joann Sfar. Its eighth panel read: ‘Friends from the whole world, thank you for #prayforParis, but we don’t need more religion! Our faith goes to Music! Kisses! Life! Champagne and Joy! #ParisisaboutLife’

I talked to many white Parisians afterwards, mostly students who were in my English language class. Many echoed what was being said in the media—that the terrorists hated their culture of freedom and wanted to destroy it, that the French were simply being hated for their ‘civilisation’. But this line of thinking conveniently ignores the fact that all of the terrorists were either French or Belgian nationals who grew up in Europe. It ignores questions of migrant young people’s experiences of growing up in France, and how they actually experience the touted French values of liberty, equality and fraternity. It sidelines the question of who has been given ‘freedom’, both within the country and outside of it. How many people in Paris were actually sipping champagne and living ‘a life of music’ before the attacks? How many people outside of Europe are able to live in freedom with the consequences of both French foreign policy and a history of French colonialism?

And what’s on the other side, in the shadows of this City of Light? There roam the outcasts, so many in number that they could constitute a city in themselves. The shadows include the homeless, the ‘illegal’ immigrants, the mentally ill, the beggars, the prostitutes, the buskers, the legal immigrants, the elderly, the poor. They live in shadows not because they are invisible (sometimes they are highly visible, like the homeless), but because they cannot exist in a city that culturally denies the parts of itself that doesn’t fit its own glorified image. The City of Light casts a shadow over those who do not live up to this vision; it can then continue projecting the image we all know of Paris to tourists and expats who lap it up, while those outside of that definition are conveniently thought of as not being part of the ‘real’ Paris, not truly Parisian. Tourists can dine in a typical French bistro, ignoring the fact that in the kitchen cooking up their typical French cuisine are often underpaid and undocumented African workers.

I visited Paris for the first time when I was living in London over ten years ago. I came over for work and they put me up in one of those hotel chains like the Mercure, near the centre of the city. When I went down to the dining room for breakfast, I walked past the kitchen and with shock, saw that all the kitchen staff were black. In contrast, the front desk staff were all white. I remember feeling like something was completely wrong with this picture; the subtle, hidden racism shone through like a blight in the landscape. Was I the only one who could see this? More than that, I felt like I was on the wrong side. I’m one of you guys, I wanted to say to them, I’m not a privileged white guest. My parents are like you. I would discover once I moved to Paris that in most middle and upper-class cafes and restaurants, including trendy hipster ones, it would be rare to see a person of colour as a waiter or front of house staff.

And perhaps the shadow people of Paris par excellence are that of the immigrant, the perpetual outsider.

What I find particularly disingenuous is that those usually celebrating the ‘good life’ of Paris inevitably ignore the role of the migrant and their exploitation in upholding the functioning of the city. That in order for some people to have a life of champagne and kisses, there is a much larger group of underpaid, usually migrant, underclass that is cleaning their offices, looking after their children, and cooking their food. Refugee, immigrant, asylum seeker, economic migrant, illegal alien. In France there’s the term sans-papiers, literally meaning without papers or visas. There are simply those with proper documentation, and those without. But what I see is a homeless man sitting on a grill vent to keep warm, his sole possession, a suitcase with a label that says ‘Paris, France’. Or the young African men who sell Eiffel Tower key rings to tourists near the monument, the bunches of key rings rattle like chains around their wrists. On a boulevard in the mixed migrant area near metro Strasbourg Saint-Denis, the Chinese street prostitutes stand waiting in their high heels, their pimps lurking nearby. I try to hurry by so as not to be mistaken for one of them.

This is the other side of Paris, and with each of them, I wonder, what mammoth Odysseus-like journey did they have to go on to get here?

I came to Paris on the back of a cliché: I married a Frenchman and moved to Paris over ten years ago. But contrary to the cliché, I had married a Frenchman of Asian origin, also Chinese–Cambodian whose family came to France as refugees. His family live on a housing estate in one of the less depressing banlieues and when I first moved to Paris, non-French friends assumed I lived a life drinking wine and visiting museums. Instead I was eating at McDonalds and watching DVDs at home because it was cheaper.

How different would my first experience of Paris have been if I had married a white, bourgeois man? Class is another unspoken aspect of the city, unspoken aspect of French culture. When class is raised in conversation at all, it is often assumed that the working class are predominately white, that it is a white experience even though migrants make up a large part of the working class, especially in this city. Paris, like many European cities, has endured immense waves of immigration over centuries, but the influence and physical manifestation of this migration is confined to the suburbs or to pockets of the city and not to touch the collective imagination. Where my husband’s family lives and where he grew up, Bagnolet, is so different from the picture postcard of Paris, so far removed from the novels, movies and blogs that depict life in Paris. It is a mixed community of African, Asian, and Arab migrants, amongst others. It is dominated by concrete government—subsidised apartment blocks, a garish shopping centre, depressing café bars—but is still considered one of the ‘better’ working-class suburbs because it has a metro station and the bobos are coming in to open their hipster cafes.

This suburb is at the end of one of the metro lines in the east of Paris. Walking around, you will hear languages other than French being spoken. You will see people of all shapes and colours in the streets, so different from the stereotype of the chic Parisien that we have. No restaurants with haute cuisine, but rather brasseries and PMU’s where mostly men go to bet on the horses. My husband’s parents still live in the area in a thirty-story grey concrete apartment block, and it is in housing estates and in suburbs like these where many Parisians live, where the majority of migrants live. Not least because the rent significantly drops once you go outside the périphérique, the ring road that circles around the city like a dividing line, like a physical barrier that encloses the city of Paris and separates it from the suburbs. You are not considered as living in Paris if you live beyond this ring road, and there could not be a better symbol of the divide between the city and the banlieue, between what is considered Parisien and what is not.

It was only in moving to Paris that I could really comprehend the uphill climb that is the migrant experience. The painful experience of trying to settle into a new alien country helped me to imagine my parents’ experiences of migration from Cambodia, a country ravaged by the Cold War between the superpowers, to Australia when I was 3 years old. Coming over to Paris—without a visa, not speaking the language, having to look for a job—in essence, having to start all over again, brought me closer to what it must have been like for my parents, who as the cliché goes (which just happens to be true), arrived in Australia with only the clothes on their backs.

In reality, I experienced on a minuscule scale what many migrants like my parents experienced. Because I had the privilege of holding an Australian passport, had English as a native language, had a local (my husband) to support me, did not come here after war and trauma, did not come here with four children…the list goes on. Yet in the countless interactions over the years that I’ve had to have with French bureaucracy in my David and Goliath battle for French citizenship, struggling in daily life to communicate in French and being looked down upon for it, having to take lower position jobs that have been underpaid and menial, having periods of extreme anxiety about money—I did experience to a limited extent the alienation and the rupture that is moving countries in difficult circumstances. But even more than that, the everyday eking out of a living on a precarious, thin line of existence. Where all energy is put into building, constructing and consolidating in whatever way you can.

Paris is a city deeply stratified by class. As French writer Édouard Louis succinctly put it:

Among the Parisian bourgeois, I realised that politics is absolutely not about life or death, about being able to eat and afford medical care or not; that whatever the government right or left does will not stop them living, eating.

The migrant in Paris cannot afford to have such a laissez-faire attitude towards politics, with increasing government laws and policies cracking down on undocumented workers and ‘illegal’ migrants, as well as refugee and asylum seekers. In April this year, under Macron the French National Assembly passed a tough new immigration law that shortened asylum application deadlines, doubled the time for which illegal migrants can be detained from 45 days to 90 days, as well as introducing a one- year prison sentence for entering France illegally. The French Interior Ministry has also forcibly evacuated migrant camps in Paris, and has recently pledged to evict the 2,300 migrants camped next to Parisian canals many of whom are from Sudan, Eritrea and Afghanistan. Furthermore, the Macron government’s instigation of labour reform, including signing a wide range of decrees to make it easier for employers to hire and fire as well as reducing the power of collective bargaining, will also affect migrant workers disproportionately. It is indeed a privilege to be able to live as if politics does not your affect your daily life, to continue living in a bubble of Paris as being primarily about food, wine, art, literature, cinema and fashion.

Of course, this illusion of Paris is something cultivated by the city itself and the tourism industry here. It reminds me of where I’m from, Sydney, where there too exists a contrast between the sprawling Western suburbs where I grew up and the postcard image of Sydney of sun, beaches and the Harbour. Maybe it is the dilemma of all global cities especially in the Easyjet age: so much a victim of its own aggressive marketing that its image never goes beyond the 2D one in the imaginations of most people. A city that is always gazing at itself, I sometimes feel trapped in this city and its cult of the image. Sometimes I walk around central Paris and I feel like I am walking in a city of symbols. There’s this and that monument, this one a reminder of a past event, that a reminder of another time. Like being frozen in a museum. I have an idea of the city’s past, but not of its recent history or future. I can’t perceive the layers of change that time brings or the way that diverse groups of people affect a place. Undoubtedly Paris has culture: but it’s largely a museum piece that has left me cold and untouched.

I long for authenticity—where there is some coherence between the image projected and the reality. Where a city reflects and manifests visible signs of a plethora of truths and a multitude of different lives. A city that embraces its changing nature, rather than always referring back to its grand past. Most of all, a city that gives cultural and physical space to its ‘shadow people’ so that they no longer occupy the margins. Because it is an inherently political act to recognise the shadows of a city, a culture, a society. To ignore it means to leave unrecognised whole groups of people and their experiences, their struggles and their joys; to ignore how much we live off their backs.

May Ngo is a researcher in the social sciences, focusing on development and politics in Cambodia. Her interests include theology, migration, diaspora and food. She is currently developing her father’s memories of his time with the Vietnamese communist army as a novel. She has a blog at The Violent Bear it Away and tweets at @mayngo2.

‘There’s a Reason I’m Telling You This: A Review of Meera Atkinson’s “Traumata”’, by Jini Maxwell

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a painting by Elisabetta Sirani, painted in 1664, called Portia Wounding her Thigh. It depicts Portia, wife of Brutus, stabbing a small knife repeatedly into her upper leg. It is a recreation of an event in the months leading up to the stabbing of Caesar, as described by Plutus. Portia notices her husband Brutus is brooding, but he refuses to tell her why, on the basis that as a woman, she would likely betray him under torture. To prove him wrong, Portia makes a series of deep, secret wounds on her thighs. She suffers symptoms of infection: pains, chills, and fever. When the pain subsides, she shows her husband the marks. Brutus celebrates her strength in bearing the pain alone. He vows to tell her everything, but they are interrupted – a few days later, Brutus murders Caesar.

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‘Seven Synopses From “Everyday Heroes”, A Short Story Collection With Characters Who Happen To Share The Names Of Australian Sports Stars’, by Doug Whyte and Jim Whyte

Listless post-grad millennial Tim Cahill is an underachieving telemarketer in Sydney’s western suburbs. His awkward, zealous manager, Craig Foster, has trouble justifying his obvious fondness for Tim against Tim’s poor performance. Tim’s cubicle monotony is disrupted by a random sales call to a grieving, ennui-sodden widow. Soon, he is making daily calls to the woman, enthralled in her heartbreaking memories of stasis and regret in an uninspiring marriage, and how her now-dizzying freedom has left her even more paralysed. Meanwhile, Craig Foster is quietly investigating into the anonymous writer who keeps leaving mysterious collage poems on his desk — elliptical, conceptual bricolage, composed with conversational snippets, pre-recorded telemarketing language and office chit-chat.

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TLB #39 is out, out, out today!

We're elated to announce that Issue 39 of The Lifted Brow is out today. No need to go foraging for quality literature this spring — it's all right here between these beautiful covers by artist Jason Herr.

Issue 39 is chockers with good stuff, including the winning piece of this year's Prize for Experimental Non-fiction (‘big beautiful female theory’ by Eloise Grills), a conversation between Leslie Jamison and Madelaine Lucas, and the usual buffet of essays, fiction, columns, poetry and artworks.

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‘Careful, There Are Eels Down There: A Review of Daisy Johnson’s “Everything Under’”, by Rebecca Slater

This is the walk I take.

Each afternoon, at around four o’clock, I leave my house on the east side of Oxford and make my way down to the river. The path is gravelly and wide, lined on one side by brown-stagnant water, on the other by green-tangled scrub. Horses and cattle graze in nearby fields while gaggles of geese patrol the towpath in packs. Two purple-fingered children pick wild blackberries from the bramble. A boy and a man fish for bream beneath the footbridge. A stern-faced rower carves a smooth track through the water past the canal boats lining the banks.

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Two Brow Books on the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction shortlist


If you've been following our socials, then you've probably seen that Readings has shortlisted, not one, but TWO Brow Books for their 2018 Prize for New Australian Fiction.

Pink Mountain on Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau and The Town by Shaun Prescott have both been chosen by Readings staff to be among the best works of Australian fiction published over the last year.

We're thrilled for Jamie and Shaun, and chuffed to see writing that challenges well-trodden notions of the Australian novel getting some well-deserved recognition.

If you haven't already gotten your hands on these two excellent novels, then you can snap them up here. Or, if you wanna be a real champion of Australian lit, you can buy the entire shortlist here at a brill discount.

Photo by Patrick Riley

Pink Mountain on Locust Island

Jamie Marina Lau

Monk lives in Chinatown with her washed-up painter father. When Santa Coy — possible boyfriend, potential accomplice — enters their lives, an intoxicating hunger consumes their home. So begins a heady descent into art, casino resorts, drugs, vacant swimming pools, religion, pixelated tutorial videos, and senseless violence.

In bursts of fizzing, staccato and claustrophobic prose, this modern Australian take on the classic hard-boiled novel bounces you between pulverised English, elastic Cantonese and the new dialect of a digitised world.

Tip over into a subterranean noir of the most electronic generation.

Buy it here.

Jamie Marina Lau (劉劍冰) is a 21-year-old writer and musician from Melbourne. Her work can be found in Cordite, ROOKIE magazine, Voiceworks, the Art Hoe Collective and in Monash University’s 2016 anthology Futures. She is currently studying film and literature, producing music, and working on more fiction.

Photo by Kate Lloyd

The Town

Shaun Prescott

In a town of innumerable petrol stations, labyrinthine cul-de-sac streets, two competing shopping plazas, and ubiquitous drive-thru franchises, where are the townsfolk likely to find the truth about their collective past — and can they do so before the town disappears?

Shaun Prescott’s debut novel The Town follows an unnamed narrator’s efforts to complete a book about disappeared towns in the Central West of New South Wales. Set in a yet-to-disappear town in the region — a town believed by its inhabitants to have no history at all — the novel traces its characters’ attempts to carve their own identities in a place that is both unyielding and teetering on the edge of oblivion.

For admirers of Gerald Murnane, Wayne Macauley, Robert Walser, and Thomas Bernhard, this novel speaks to who we are as people, and as a country, whether we like what it says or not.

Buy it here.

Shaun Prescott is a writer based in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. He has self-released several small books of fiction, including Erica From Sales and The End of Trolleys, and was editor of Crawlspace Magazine. His writing has appeared in The Lifted Brow, The Guardian, Meanjin, Australian Book Review, and other places.

‘Capital “P” Personal: a review of Sally Rooney’s “Normal People”’, by Cosima McGrath

Last month, my partner and I filled out a Centrelink form defining the nature of our relationship. I say ‘form’ but really I should say ‘booklet’ — the whole thing was almost twenty pages. Each invasive question had small boxes you could mark for yes or no, and then a blank rectangle where you could add more detail, if you so desired. Do you and the other person share a vehicle? Do you and the other person share meals? Do you have a sexual relationship with the other person? Are you and/or the other person allowed sexual relationships with other people? Are you and the other person viewed as a unit by your friends and family?

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This piece is the final installment in Eloise's MIFF 2018 Festival Diary. Their first entry can be found here, and their second entry can be found here.

When I was a kid I was terrified of endings. I still kind of am. This is not unique. I don’t believe I am the only person ever to feel a chill in their soul when the sun leaves for the night, and the daylight hours’ events cannot be elaborated upon any further. I don’t believe I am the only person ever to loathe the end of school holidays, lying awake all night, anticipating every bad thing that would inevitably occur. And yet, I am scared of endings, or the frightening beginnings they suggest, or the fact that there are no endings or beginnings, just the great dispassionate expanse of time like a map with no boundary.

I still feel this anxiety, for example, when I am going home from a holiday with my partner, or when I finish a big project, or at the end of a festival, or an event, or the end of a financial year, etc. I feel it in the undiscovered corners of my map, like a serpent just below the surface of the sea, ready to destroy everything, or to invigorate it in a way I can’t yet comprehend. I feel like an ending will erase me as I know myself.

I wanted to write something where I muse on some essential truth of the festival experience, on the ways in which it has changed, invigorated, shaped me as a person, as an artist, but I don’t think this would be a true thing to write. I mostly feel the same as before, just more enervated and with my eczema flaring up around my nose and my knee sore.

I don’t think going to a festival and sitting in a room alone watching movies can really change me. It has just filled me up more than I am usually filled, filled me up to my edges so I notice how far they stretch. Turned the colours up a bit. Allotted to my life a shade marginally more vibrant than its usual.

It is poor critical form to spoil endings, but then what is the point of an analysis that removes the most potent portion from its arsenal? Is there really such a thing as an ending, anyway, or just an endless thread of middles leading on to more middling middles? Is the thing I fear that there is no break in the chain at all?


Directed by Paul Schrader

Ethan Hawke is an alcoholic priest with a tragic past, his faith riddled with more holes than Swiss cheese
He works at a souvenir shop
For a large church organisation called “Abundant Life”
He talks to Mary, played by Amanda Seyfried, who is worried about her husband
He has just come back from prison for an environmental protest
Depressed, uninvolved, working Home Depot shifts at her behest
She is pregnant, and he wants to get rid of it

Hawke, playing Toller, is a man of few words, a pastor to a tiny flock
He is writing a diary to be destroyed after twelve months
As a kind of alternative to the prayer he cannot muster
He is having a crisis of faith, destroying his body
Drinking hard brown liquor and consuming no food
Pissing blood in the mornings, in the nights
What do we do when we know the end is coming?
How do we lean into the dark?


Toller visits Michael, Mary’s (Seyfried’s) husband at his house
He says, that in 2050 the world will be unrecognisable
Due to climate change
He says, that if he had a child
He wouldn’t know how to explain that he’d known
What would happen and still let them be born
Toller reveals that he pressured his son to join the military, to honour tradition
To fight in a baseless war, and he died
And then his marriage died, and he was without hope
“Whatever pain it is to bring a child into the world, cannot equal the pain of taking a child from it” Toller says


“Can God forgive us for what we’ve done to this world?” Michael asks
To which Toller replies: “Who can know the mind of God?”


After their first counselling session, Mary calls Toller
Shows him the suicide bomb vest of Michael’s she found in the garage
Toller takes it to hide and then Michael
Kills himself
And Toller begins to self-destruct
Simultaneously coming closer to pregnant Mary
Mary who is filled with faith in God
Mary who is a kind of Virgin Mary
Mary mary full of grace
And all that, but maybe in an interesting way

Toller is infected with Michael’s despair
He writes on the church board: Will God Forgive Us?
He butts heads with church officials, with the choir leader
Who’d once had an affair with him
We see her leading a young choir in a strangely bloody hymn
Are you washed (are you washed)
  In the blood (in the blood)
  In the soul cleansing blood of the lamb?


He also butts heads with:

  • The leader of the church, played by Cedric the Entertainer
  • The church’s primary donor, a local polluting corporation
Toller begins to hatch a bizarre and pernicious plot


“I know that nothing can change, and I know there is no hope”

How do you face despair with hope?
How do you let your faith run rampant and wild and destructive?
How do you hold two contradictory truths in your mind simultaneously?
How do you embrace the end like an old chum?


There is something transcendental and sublime
Mary’s barefaced love and grace seems to say
I am standing naked but I give no shits




I got a beer to drink with this movie, my last movie
Because it was so late at night and I wanted to reward myself for not cancelling the session
Because there is something nice to be said about treating yourself
When no one else is around to see


In the last scene music swells, the room is light, filled with ecstasy, miraculous
Whether or not you believe what happens
Whether you believe in an interventionist god
Or someone else
Or something else
Or none at all
Whether or not the ending is symbolic or real or miraculous
When no one else is around to observe you doing it
Maybe there is a point to doing
Doing something dangerous or crazy
Over not doing anything at all


Eloise Grills is an award-winning writer and comics artist specialising in hybrid visual-written form—she's like a more sexily literary Dr Moreau. She recently won the 2018 Woollahra Digital Literary Prize for Nonfiction. In 2018 she was awarded a Felix Meyer Travel Scholarship, was a finalist for the mid-year Walkleys, and is currently shortlisted for TheLifted Brow and RMIT non/fictionLab Prize for Experimental Non-fiction. Her debut comics chapbook, Sexy Female Murderesses, will be published by Glom Press later this year. She tweets and grams as @grillzoid and edits memoir for Scum.

'On Touches that Cut', by Hayley Singer

When Franz Kafka wrote “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us,” he was describing a need for writing that cut through cultural insensibilities. Now that we are living in the epoch of the Anthropocene, writers are reprising Kafka’s call to “read only books that bite and sting us.” Theorists, such as Kate Rigby, are asking whether stories can rupture indifference, cut through “the psychic numbness” engendered by ways of thinking and being that “render us insouciant towards suffering, heedless of injustice, content with affluence, and dangerously unaware of our own imperilment.”

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This piece is the second installment in Eloise's MIFF 2018 Festival Diary. Last week's entry can be found here, and their final entry will published on our website next week!

Directed by Gabrielle Brady

A therapy session with Poh Lin
an asylum seeker plays with a box of sand
When Poh Lin asks her to tell her what it feels like she pauses for an interminable moment, rubbing the sand between her fingers, and then says
quietly: “the sound reminds me of waves”

watercolour of hands with sand slipping through fingers

The documentary, centred on Christmas Island, lyrically weaves multiple strands into a complex net:

  • Poh Lin, her therapy work with asylum seekers detained in the detention centre, and her life with her partner and two children
  • The Malaya-descended inhabitants of the island who perform rituals to appease hungry ghosts of the first settlers who did not receive a proper burial
  • The migration of the island’s oldest residents, the red land crabs
  • Drawn to the ocean the full moon

watercolour with two figures in foreground, long line of crabs approach them from dark cross-hatched void, above which there are two smaller black and white figures

This island is haunted innumerably
Ghosts crash over one another like breakers

Brady substitutes explicit argument for deft lyricism
Our world has heard empathy’s polemic, yet nothing changes
Our world instead bloated with pernicious prejudice
That grows and grows
And continues
to evolve
Yet stays the same
Same shit, new day
We tried polemic, can we give poetry a go?

watercolour landscape, brown textured lower half, blue green upper half with column of white in middle

A green forest teeming with crabs
Sea blasting through rock
A kite filled with flame
Offerings for hungry ghosts
Small gestures chafe against large wrongs
“It is not illegal to seek asylum,” Poh explains to her patient when she says: “I know we came here illegally”
I am crying in the cinema
Maybe to cure inertia we need to be moved

watercolour of black and white figure in black and white car, radio saying ...illegal maritime arrivals, landscape through windscreen abstract and vibrant

The polemic is something less than its parts, a machine that squashes artfulness as it sharpens to its point
Persuasive language at its basest amplifies cheap prejudice:
Refugees become queue jumpers, economic migrants
Boats filled with desperate people become “illegal maritime arrivals” on the radio as Poh Lin drives home from work
People become illegal
Their life-or-death circumstances becomes “I can’t disclose that information”
Bureaucratic euphemism dismantles humanity and deadens poetry in the same cold breath

“May you all be reincarnated into a better life,” says a man who has come to visit unmarked graves
And you can feel the beneficence of that wish rippling through all layers of the film

watercolour of four figures, two standing in blue, one holding an object to the others head, their faces obscured, two sitting in brown below them

In Poh Lin’s office, there is a sandbox filled with tiny pawns
Where patients enact
Miniaturised trauma
A man speaks about his mother, how he loves her

But that they are detained separately
How last time he saw her she was injured
Couldn’t stand up
But trying to act strong
She smiled at her son and waved
The sand swells with grief

close up watercolour of crab

The crabs are a constant, silent presence
Some are as old as a grandfather, Poh Lin says to her daughter
On a camping trip in the lush forest
Which feels like a guilty reprieve
From the uncertainty: Poh Lin’s appointments cancelled
The fate of her patients, scattered, unknowable, in the wind
Her frustration mounts as she makes another phone call
And a man is “transferred” despite her professional advice

What do they remember, the crabs?
Are they a symbol, an undercurrent, or just an ancient nuisance?
People get out of their cars to gently rake them off the road
They are shown more compassion than the people imprisoned here

In one scene Poh cuts through a thicket of jungle
To demonstrate to Brady the detention centre below
A prison pillowed by deep forest
A grey alien form

watercolour of person looking out at grey mountains and green hills in distance

At the end of the film Poh, exhausted, explains to her daughter why they must leave the island:
“I came here to help but I don’t think I can help”

watercolour of two black and white figures sitting amonst coloured rocks, trees, bush

If you open your door to watch the sinking ships on the horizon, do you invite despair to blow through you like an icy wind?
What good is a house riddled with rising damp?
What use are good intentions if they amount to shit?

If one life is a grain of sand
A lonely fleck
Combined, do we make the sea’s roar,
or an insipid stirring as the tide pushes out?

watercolour landscape, brown textured lower half, blue green upper half with column of white in middle

Eloise Grills is an award-winning writer and comics artist specialising in hybrid visual-written form—she's like a more sexily literary Dr Moreau. She recently won the 2018 Woollahra Digital Literary Prize for Nonfiction. In 2018 she was awarded a Felix Meyer Travel Scholarship, was a finalist for the mid-year Walkleys, and is currently shortlisted for TheLifted Brow and RMIT non/fictionLab Prize for Experimental Non-fiction. Her debut comics chapbook, Sexy Female Murderesses, will be published by Glom Press later this year. She tweets and grams as @grillzoid and edits memoir for Scum.

‘They Believed in Jim Jones: a review of Laura Elizabeth Woollett’s “Beautiful Revolutionary”’, by Rebecca Varcoe

In 2017, Stitcher produced a podcast called Heavens Gate, titled for the cult it examined across its ten episodes. The members of Heavens Gate were famed for committing group suicide in 1997, each clad in matching tracksuits. Hosted by Glynn Washington, himself a former cult member (not Heavens Gate), the series examined the people behind the cult, Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, and perhaps more importantly, their followers. Or were they their victims? Who these people truly were, and what they meant to each other, was the basis of the podcast’s discussion. Sourced from interviews with surviving family members, and hours of footage taken by the group, it’s a profoundly moving look at the gentleness, the ordinariness and the hope that preceded their violent end.

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