The Best of 2016 From The Lifted Brow: Online


Photo by Becky Lai. Image reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.

It’s been an absolutely massive year for us here at The Lifted Brow: we released our first book as publishers (which we swiftly reprinted), we said goodbye to two talented editors of our quarterly journal and said hello to two new and equally talented editors, we ran a massive experimental non-fiction prize (and seminars to go with it), we put on a lecture series, we announced new books, new projects, and new partnerships, we were shortlisted for two Stack awards, we welcomed just so many new staff, and we ran a special week of online content to celebrate the launch of our most recent, ‘Capital’-themed issue … amongst a bunch of other things, and all while delivering the same quarterly journal, digital editions, original online content, and events that you know and (hopefully) love. Phew.

With that in mind, we at the Brow—and this, its website—will be taking a short break over the Christmas period to recover from 2016 and plan even more great things for 2017.

To tide you over until we return on January 16th next year, here’s an unofficial list of eleven really rather excellent original pieces we published online this year (excluding archive pieces, print edition excerpts, and The Lifted Brow Review of Books reviews), in chronological order.

‘Disrupting Songlines: Some Thoughts About the Triple J Hottest 100’, by Hannah Donnelly

As a DJ, I know this experience intimately. Some people love the hype of having a Wiradjuri DJ playing Indigenous music – but when my set starts the audience doesn’t actually want to listen. People walk off the d floor when a song about forced closures by Gamilaraay MC Provocalz comes on. This track about murdered and missing Indigenous women from an Anishinaabe producer really clears the room. When old white people at charity gigs won’t hide their disdain and give me their best filthy Aborigine look. When someone requests “a local Melbourne artist” after I’ve just played Yung Warriors – who are from, you guessed it, Melbourne. Recently I lip-read a mesh-dressed hipster say sideways to her friend, “Like I get it, I know it’s trying to be political, but what is she actually trying to do?” Nothing, bitch, I’m just playing music. You’re the one who is confronted.

‘Courage, Also: Gold Class in Motion’, by Anwen Crawford

What Gold Class evoke is, as Evan puts it, “a gut feeling” of discomfort, and that feeling is self-implicating, too. It’s You dwells upon shame: “Bad from the neck down”. It’s a feeling I recognise, a skin-crawling sense of being wrong. It is perhaps why I trust Adam and Evan when they voice their support for feminist politics, though in general, men who call themselves feminist are guaranteed to provoke my suspicion. They are self-aware enough to realise the conundrum involved in being an all-male, pro-feminist rock band. As Evan notes, “the world has seen enough men with guitars.” Ain’t that the truth. Still, a male guitar band with an openly queer front person is more unusual than not, and the ties of solidarity between queer and feminist politics are substantial, if complicated.

‘Boiling the Pot’, by Ellena Savage

Carman’s essay stakes a claim on his independence—Carman will not pander to the soft egos of his enemies—and for that alone I think it needs to be taken earnestly. But the meanness of it (amusing to some and cutting to others) betrays an injury that draws a visible line around the assumption that this independence can be truly attained. We want to say what we want to say but feel we can’t, and this censure causes injury, then when we find a way to say what we wanted to say the substance is lost to the enormity of the injury – whatever it was we wanted to say is subsumed by the need to acknowledge this wound.

‘Tappahannock’, by Emily O’Grady

In New Orleans, Michael had pre-booked a haunted hotel in the French Quarter and after drinking sugary cocktails on Bourbon Street we went back to our room. As Lor sat on the end of her bed her nose started to bleed, thick and slow as lava. I had forgotten her phobia, and the sight of the spherical drop on her kneecap was alarming and made me laugh for the first time in days. But Lor locked herself in the bathroom for an hour and cried and cried. She told Michael and me that we weren’t nurturing people through the gap in the door.

‘Wisdom from a Life of Boxing and Other Violences, by George Hannibal Washington, Former Heavyweight Champion and Great Magician of Combat’ (parts one, two, and three), by Jack Vening

It’s where I got into the Bible, too, which my father said was too sexy to have in the house. But I didn’t just read the sexy bits about flaming swords and people kissing their sisters. I read about Jonah, who got swallowed by a whale and lived to talk about it. Probably the only time that’s happened; certainly the only time anyone’s ever gotten famous for it. What’s more, it was the best thing that could have happened to him, because it gave him time to think, got his life back on track, put him on the path that he was always meant to be on, spreading the word of the Lord in the desert and convincing donkeys to wear clothes. I realised that we all need to spend some time in the belly of the whale. For me, that was prison, except on Wednesdays we got to watch movies.

‘Bitter Fruit’, by Anonymous

It sucked because I had to learn the bitter truths that so many women are familiar with: once the person you looked up to makes a pass at you, every good thing they’ve ever said to you is reduced to nil. It doesn’t matter how much of his professional encouragement was genuine, and not just an extended exercise in grooming me for sex; the two are indistinguishable, so it all means nothing. Inside my house, after the incident in the car, I leant against the wall and felt a whiplash of retrospective razing: all of it, all the praise, the words in ears, the opportunities and friendly coffees and time, had been leading up to this premeditated pass. I felt bereft. I felt exhausted. I had loved writing, had loved and valued this man’s support; I knew immediately the vivid truth of the phrase “ashes in my mouth”. If I hadn’t already had some stuff published, and wasn’t naturally possessed of a monstrous creative ego, I might have decided to give up my writing career there and then.

‘Handle with Care: on White Australian Invisibility in Non-White Dialogues’, by Stephen Pham

Another parallel is implied, between the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder in both adults and children as a result of White Australian colonialism and Western imperialism. Left untreated or otherwise misunderstood, this can result in intergenerational trauma and intensifying cycles of abuse that can manifest in “aggression, adolescent suicide, alcoholism and other substance misuse, sexual promiscuity, physical inactivity, smoking and obesity”, in addition to difficulty maintaining human relationships and susceptibility to lifestyle diseases that may shorten their lifespan. Asylum seekers and Aboriginal peoples both bear the psychological and human cost of settler-colonial Australia’s complicity in imperialist White supremacist capitalism; the Australian government’s refusal to hold itself accountable and commit to long-term strategies feeds into its overall mistreatment of mental illness to hinder these communities’ ability to heal. The weight of this cannot be stressed enough.

‘On Power, Sex, and Telling Our Own Messy Stories’, by Anonymous

Recently, as I felt my own ego returning to its former health, I found myself indulging the thought that maybe the whole situation had been about me after all – maybe he really had been ‘a combination of hurt and smitten’. My rage had dulled enough for me to feel curious, and I went back and re-read his last message.

To send it, he’d had to pull up my name in Messenger. It’s now been over a year since we met. We’ve had sex. He’d sat on my couch and told me at length about his marital problems. He’d said he was ‘smitten’. He’d said he was going to help me publish a book.

He still spelled my name wrong.

‘In Praise of Audiobooks’, by Ben Brooker

My childhood was full of stories I heard rather than read. There’s a photograph of me from not long before I started school, slumped on a beanbag, and wearing only a pair of green and white striped shorts. A chunky pair of headphones on my head lead to the home amplifier and cassette tape player. A picture book is open in my lap. I’m listening to an audio version of Willow (or is it The Dark Crystal? – it’s hard to tell) by the American company Buena Vista, one of many such adaptations in their series of “read-along book & tapes”. My expression is inscrutable, showing an awareness of the photographer’s presence but not whether I’m bothered by it. I don’t look ‘lost in the story’. If I had to guess, I’d say I’m more interested in the progress of Willow Ufgood’s quest to vanquish the evil queen Bavmorda (or Jen’s to restore the Dark Crystal with her magic shard) than in whoever is taking the picture—obviously a family member—but there is still a slight tension there, an in-betweenness: not removed from the world, yet not entirely part of it either.

‘Carbon Sucking Mushrooms Will Save Us but Whisky Will Kill Us Anyway’, by Nicole Walker

My dad, who continued to go out to dinner with me and my sisters, even if he stopped joining friends for dinner, ordered wine for lunch. Sometimes a Bloody Mary, too. At the Oyster Bar, my sisters and I would order another round of oysters as my dad ordered another round of drinks. For him. We didn’t drink yet. We ate the oysters. He drank the drinks. He slid sideways onto the black vinyl bench seat. We ate our oysters. He kept sliding.

“Eat a bite of your shrimp cocktail, Dad.”

“I’m not very hungry.”

And he wasn’t. He couldn’t have been. He sucked all the calories he needed from that glass of Chardonnay. He sat up to take another sip. Never leave anything behind. That would be wasteful. Unless you’re referring to the shrimp.

‘My Bad: How a Book and an Essay About Bad Writing Made Good on My Social Democratic Ideals’, by Sam Twyford-Moore

One reason given for the tendency for literature to be underfunded—something whispered or hinted at, but never stated outright—is that the literary culture tends to lean left of the left, and that those in power understand the dangers inherent in oppositional literatures. The truth is that the attack on the literary arts is ideological, and we need a strong collective of writers to counter it. When Senator George Brandis floated his brutal art sector reforms, he did so under the guise of promoting ‘Excellence’ – as in, his fund would be titled the National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA). This seemed innocuous to the majority of the population, but ‘excellence’ in Brandis’s limited thinking is reserved for specific art forms (symphony orchestras, opera et al), accessed primarily through audiences with large amounts of capital (NPEA’s draft guidelines did not even mention literature). Indeed, many observed at the time that Brandis was making over arts funding in his own image – a great example of Randian rational egoism if ever there was one. But the NPEA was not a policy of deregulation, rather it was the very definition of interventionist. Financial deregulation, perhaps, requires cultural interventionism to truly wreak its havoc. Locally, the deregulation of property development in Sydney—which amounts to financial deregulation within the developer-friendly agenda of Mike Baird and the Liberal government—has been twinned with an over-regulation of culture largely via Baird’s ongoing lock-out laws. This has most visibly affected the music sector—whose profitable working hours are curbed—but rising rents and cost of living having a flow on effect for writers too. Crippling economic policy for an already financial downtrodden breed of artist is a sustained, strategic act of silencing.

If all this doesn’t sate your thirst for original and delicious Brow online writing, please check out our archive for even more good stuff.

Finally, if you’d like to write for the Lifted Brow: Online in 2017, we’d love to hear from you – we’ll still be accepting pitches for Commentary pieces and The Lifted Brow Review of Books pieces over the break.

See you all next year!