In a world that moves too fast, and in which myriad exhausting decisions must be made at every turn, the small ceremony is, it seems, making a comeback. A new generation is discovering how soothing it is to blow imaginary dust from a beloved record – and a dozen other everyday sacraments besides. Observer ‘LPs are the antidote to a frenetic digital world’

I have given up smoking, well at least that is the excuse I give for my new found addiction, buying vinyl records. I feel that the use of the word ‘addiction’ might be hyperbole, but there is something about vinyl that feels like it is a want, rather than something of a need, especially when I often own copies of many of the albums on CD or am able to stream them. However, there is something about vinyl that has really captured my me.

I remember reading Doug Belshaw’s post a few years ago involving a letter to his future self.

You’re 23 years old now and this is you in 10 years time writing to yourself. I want to give you some advice and general pointers. Having already been you, I know it’s likely that you’ll read this and then forget about it, but I’m going to do it anyway. For better or worse, I’m still as stubborn as you are now.

Source: A letter from the future by Doug Belshaw

It is something that has haunted me since, what would I say to my past self that would make a difference today. I think I would probably say would be “don’t give up on your music.”

Saying I “gave up on music” seems strange, it is not that I completely stopped listening to or playing music, rather I feel at some stage in life I stopped engaging with music in a certain way. (Maybe Daniel Levitin might say this is normal, I really should read This is Your Brain on Music.) I have always listened to new and old music alike, but not in the same manner. I also sold a lot of my music equipment – MicroKorg, Roland MC303, audio mixer and reference monitors. In part, I think it reflected a change in life. On the one hand, Aphex Twin’s Drukqs is not really something I would be inclined to play with sleeping children around, while tinkering with music seemed like an indulgence. In addition to this, concerts and late nights no longer seemed like a priority.

I started buying back my my music equipment. This has included a Arturia MiniFreak, Roland MC101, Roland JX-08, a new mixer and monitors. I also started going to concerts again. With my effort to collect my crumbs, I started being more deliberate with my music listening, intentionally listening to albums and making notes of what I listened to. I also started purchasing some music via Bandcamp. However, I had not really returned to purchasing physical music. A part of this related to the fact that I simply do not get out my DVDs and CDs anymore, I was even challenged about whether I needed them anymore, whether they still ‘sparked joy‘. I do not think that this is anything new, as captured in a post from Rolling Stone from 2018:

As streaming gives the music industry its biggest profits in a decade, the CD business continues to plunge. CD sales have fallen 80 percent in the past decade, from roughly 450 million to 89 million. Since Tesla began manufacturing cars without CD players, other companies like Ford and Toyota have recently followed. Downloads – once seen as the CD’s replacement – have plummeted 58 percent since peaking in 2012, their profits now even smaller than physical sales. Artists have taken note; Bruce Springsteen released his latest box set, The Album Collection Vol. 2, 1987-1996, exclusively on vinyl, with no CD option, unlike 2014’s Vol. 1. “It’s a streaming world and a vinyl world with a quickly diminishing CD,” says Daniel Glass, president of Glassnote Records, indie-label home of Mumford & Sons and Phoenix.

Source: The End of Owning Music: How CDs and Downloads Died by Steve Knopper

One impetus to start listening to vinyl came when my dad gave me his record collection. I had always enjoyed trolling through his collection of crates when growing up, finding what felt like the weird and wonderful, whether it be David Bowie, Frank Zappa or early Cure. However, I soon realised that I wanted more than somebody else’s collection, I wanted my own music in the collection.

Over the years I have incidentally purchased some vinyl records, such as Radiohead’s In Rainbows and The King of Limbs, as well as Go-Go Sapien’s Love in Other Dimensions. I had some friends who bought vinyl. However, I never really appreciated them. I think I was caught up in the debate about audio quality, rather than how I actually listened to music. I spent years listening on poor headphones, it seemed a moot point to be arguing about the difference between streaming and vinyl records.

Another other inspiration of sorts has been Jim Groom’s VinylCasts, where he would play vinyl on internet radio. I think this may have planted the seed for vinyl being about more than just audio quality. Associated with this, Damian Cowell spoke a lot about searching for records and his love of listening as a part of his podcast for his album, Only the Shit You Love. Also, Austin Kleon often talks about playing particular records in his studio.

One of the things that is often said about records is how good the artwork is and how this is often lost in a world of streaming.

Album artwork today has a comparatively minimal role. It no longer serves as the focal point of an artist’s release, instead, it is one part in a much broader visual whole. Creating consistency between an artist’s social media posts, press photos, tour posters and any other visual elements serves the same purpose that album artwork once did: to build a world around an artist and contextualise their music for the listener. However, I can’t help lamenting what we might have lost. If less people are looking at album artworks, less resources will be allocated to them, and less people will put effort into them.

Source: The Lost Art of Album Artwork by Max Bloom

This is something that Damian Cowell discussed in regards to Roger Dean’s design for Osibisa.

Osibisa is the self-titled debut album by British afro rock band Osibisa
This is the cover art for the album Osibisa by the artist Osibisa.

Covers are often references as being the stimulus for purchasing a record. (This is something that my dad said that did.) For me though, this side of things is an added bonus. Of course covers look better blown up, but it is not what draws me to an album. (Although, I did spot Methyl Ethel’s Triage while flicking because it is such a unique cover.) Other than a handful of occasions (The Fauves Driveway Heart Attack and High Pass Filter’s Nice Coordinated Outfit), I have not bought a record without having already listened to it a number of times first.

When I buy a record, I do not necessarily want surprises. Even though I can connect my headphones to my turntable, I usually listen while doing things, therefore it is a very public medium. I am more inclined to listen to a range of music online, but when it has reached vinyl, it feels like a statement of intent. On the Take 5 podcast, Ed Droste discussed how it usually takes five listens to form a judgment on an album. My purchases can therefore be understood as a confirmation of my judgment. (Ironically, Droste felt that growing up with vinyl and being unable to skip helped with that judgement process.)

A strange thing I like about listening to vinyl is that it forces you to listen to a whole album. I like this constraint. There is no skipping and no pauses. If I have to stop an album for some reason, then it means I need to start that side all over again. In a world where being interrupted has become standard, missing a part of an album makes this more concrete. (I have actually taken the album approach to long drives. Instead of worrying about playlists and/or individual tracks, I have started queuing albums, one after another.)

Here is a list of my vinyl purchases so far:

  • Methyl Ethel – Oh Inhuman Spectacle
  • Methyl Ethel – Triage
  • Methyl Ethel – Are you Haunted?
  • The Panics – Cruel Guards
  • Sarah Blasko – Depth of Field
  • Massive Attack – Blue Lines
  • Portishead – Dummy
  • Portishead – Portishead
  • Jeff Buckley – Grace
  • The Avalanches’ – We Will Always Love You
  • DIANA – Familiar Touch
  • Joseph Shabason – Anne EP
  • Beach House – Teen Dream
  • Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  • The Fauves – Driveway Heart Attack
  • Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine – Only the Shit You Love
  • Client Liaison – Divine Intervention
  • Montaigne – Complex
  • Washington – Batflowers
  • Kimbra – A Reckoning
  • Kate Bush – Hounds of Love
  • Depeche Mode – Violator
  • Radiohead – OK Computer OKNOTOK
  • High Pass Filter – Nice Coordinated Outfit
  • Tortoise – Standards
  • Autechre – Tri Repetae
  • Boards of Canada – Geogaddi
  • Lorde – Pure Heroine
  • Lorde – Melodrama
  • Taylor Swift – 1989
  • Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

I must admit, I have not started buying vinyl that maybe scratched to have on the shelf. I know some buy some albums just to have them in their collection, whether they are playable or not. I am also circumspect about buying expensive second hand records or expensive records in general. For example, I saw a used copy of The Triffids’ Born Sandy Devotion for near on $100. Although I love the album, I feel there needs to be a limit. (I am not buying four versions of the same record for four album covers.) I have bought many of my records when on sale and would rather have three different albums than one really expensive one. (If Jamie Lidell is right in his desire to purchase and play an original Can record, then I might be wrong about listening to original recordings. However, for now I will live with that.) I also prefer albums that a single records. I accept that some albums are actually quite long, but there are others that end up with on a couple of tracks on each side, which just seems frustrating. Oh, then there are albums like Boards of Canada’s Geogaddi which is three records.


As always, comments welcome. Oh, and I only used giving up smoking as a reference. I find it interesting the idea that if I had given up smoking that it would be somehow justified.


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When the political debates of our age are past, there will always be our country. Our challenge – all of us – is to live here and call it home; our nation this thing of the soul. Stan Grant ‘Australia Day’

With Australia Day, Stan Grant continues on from his previous book Speaking to my Country, collecting a range of pieces and ideas tied together, addressing land, family, race, history and nation to answer the question: who are we? The book is a mixture of personal memoir and philosophical exploration.


The book begins with a reflection upon the act of looking on at Australia from a distance. Grant explores the different between the head and the heart, that is Australia as a great place versus the feeling of rejections when it comes to reconciliation. He highlights this conflicting sentiment with different perspective on the idea of Australians being ‘young and free’:

Australians all, let us rejoice for we are young and free.

My people die young in this country. We die ten years younger than average Australians and we are far from free. We are fewer than three per cent of the Australian population and yet we are twenty-five per cent, a quarter, of those Australians locked up in our prisons – and if you are a juvenile, it is worse, it is fifty per cent. An Indigenous child is more likely to be locked up in prison than they are to finish high school.

Grant talks about living space between the dance and the destruction:

Between the dance and the destruction is the Australian dream. It is here I find myself. I live between the dance and the destruction. I live between the ship and the shore. It is here that the dream remains unrealised. In this troubled space we all live our lives.

Part 1: Home

In the section on ‘home’, Grant explores the strangeness associated with the place where we live. He discusses how we try to tame the country with roads and towns, marking the ground and drawing borders to give a sense of certainty. Such acts involve living with absence and loss, “the stranger in ourselves.”

This doesn’t mean we all become Indigenous or that we become more homogeneous but we can dwell in this ‘uncanny’. We can as psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva says discover our ‘incoherences and abysses’ to come to terms with the ‘stranger in ourselves’.

The stranger in ourselves.

That’s what I was coming to terms with at Lake Mungo; it is what has drawn me to the work of Jonathan Jones: not my Aboriginal ancestry or my European heritage, something else, something more elusive that can’t easily be measured in DNA. It is that part of me where black and white meet and how what has happened here between us, has happened on this land. This is our home: unsettled and uncanny.

What interests Grant is the possibility of the space between. Michel de Certeau suggests that we use stories to fill the void. Some examples of literary stories include Thomas Keneally’s The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith and Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock.

The story of Australia speaks to us from the dry shores of Lake Mungo. Forty thousand years ago, the waters were full, sustaining a thriving community. Here a man was laid to rest with full ceremony, his body smeared in ochre. In all of humanity this was rare, among the earliest examples of such ritual. The mourners sang a song in language now lost.

As modern Australia celebrated its birth at Federation in 1901, the historical inspiration for Jimmie Blacksmith, the real Jimmy Governor, sat in a Darlinghurst jail cell, alternating between singing songs in his traditional Wiradjuri language and reading the Bible – the synthesis of the old and new worlds that collided here so violently, given form in a man soon for the gallows. It is a synthesis Keneally saw as contradiction; and yet it is the essence of being Australian.

Joan Lindsay wrote the book of the missing girls of Hanging Rock, and director Peter Weir fixed it in our imaginations. The land itself, a potent character in an ethereal tale of place and being.

These are Australian stories, ancient and modern, and all efforts at recognition – a need to be seen. It is indeed a fleeting project, an attempt to capture a people – a people always changing – in a time and place. A drawing on a cave wall preserved for antiquity, to tell future people: ‘This was us.’

It is so human, and it is essential.

Part 2: Family

In the section on ‘family’, Grant explores the complicated nature of ancestory. He wonders who to embrace and deny in his past. Is it Frank Foster? Is it Otho Gherardini?

We are all of us a part of each other. We step into many rivers and are inevitably changed: a process of becoming. A Chinese friend once said to me that we are the last stop on our ancestors’ journey. What does that make me? I have been a nobleman in old Florence; part of the Norman conquest of England; an Irish baron and then a cast-out peasant farmer. I have been a Catholic rebel, striking back at the harsh hand of Protestant England. I have been a Wiradjuri warrior defending an invasion by strangers with muskets. Yet I would be today unrecognisable to my forebears; someone who doesn’t speak their languages or practise their ceremonies. I am a pinwheel of colours spinning into one; a kaleidoscope of history that came to rest on the shores of Botany Bay.

For Grant there are problems with describing Aboriginal culture as somehow ageless. This is particularly captured in the work of Australian anthropologist, W.E.H. Stanner, and the idea of a people caught between the ‘dreaming and the market’.

Stanner’s essay [Durmugam: A Nangiomeri] has helped set Indigenous people in the Australian imagination: a people for whom change spells doom. It has all the hallmarks of the ‘noble savage’, the European ideal of a people unsullied by ‘progress’. Stanner – for all his good intentions and empathy – robbed Aboriginal people of a future. His idea of people caught between the dreaming and the market exerted a powerful hold on policy makers as they sought to find the balance between economy and identity; between what is ‘mainstream’ and what is ‘Indigenous’. It has helped shape ideas of identity, some Indigenous people embracing the idea of timelessness and rejecting of what is seen as modernity.

Grant warns that identity risks being “a cage in search of a bird”

To borrow from Franz Kafka, identity can be a cage in search of a bird. I was born into that ‘half-caste’ community that emerged from the Australian frontier; a hybrid society formed out of the clash of old and new

In the end, what it means to be Aboriginal is varying and always in a state of flux. With this in mind, regarding those who have ‘made it’ as being somehow less legimate is not true. Being indigenous is a birth right, not something that can be means tested.

Part 3: Race

In the section on ‘race’, Grant explores the ways in which race is constructed. He begins by recounting his first memory of being labelled as ‘black’ while at school.

Black. It wasn’t just a colour and it certainly wasn’t just a word. No, not a word: it was a world, a world unto its own, a world apart. It was a world to which one was banished. Black was a judgment.

Only to then be denied.

You’re not black, you have lovely olive skin.’

There it was. In one day, Owen and I had been called black and then told we were not black. Black was in the eye of the beholder, it was nothing we could own. Tim had spoken the innocence of childhood, but knew more than he realised

Grant explains how race is a learnt behaviour. The challenge faced is balancing between the ‘better angels of our nature’ and the reality of indigenous lives today.

Doesn’t my life tell me that race is not a prison? Unlike Baldwin, I look for the spaces in between, those questions that defy easy answers. My instinct is to soften the blow. Even knowing what I know I struggle to accept that my country should be condemned by the worst of its history. Are we – black people – still in Baldwin’s words ‘worthless’? Is this my country? Today, at this time, is this who we are? I think of my fellow Australians of goodwill – those who have loved and cried with us – and I say surely this, the better angels of our nature, is the true measure of us.

But then I think again how 97 per cent of kids locked up in the Northern Territory are black kids. I think of their parents too likely to have been behind bars. I think of their grandparents likely gone too soon, dead before their time. In this country Indigenous people die ten years younger than other Australians. I think of how suicide remains the single biggest cause of death for Indigenous people under the age of thirty-five. I think of Aboriginal women, forty-five times more likely to suffer domestic violence than their white sisters. An Aboriginal woman is more than ten times more likely to be killed from violent assault.

I think of lives chained to generations of misery.

The problem is that indigenous people are rendered invisible by the white gaze.

I am born of deep traditions. My footprints trace the first steps on this land. I am born too of the white imagination – this imagination that said we did not exist. The imagination that said this was an empty land – terra nullius. It is not just a legal doctrine, it is a state of mind. We were rendered invisible, our rights extinguished. If we existed at all, we were just as likely dismissed as the fly-blown savages unfit to be counted among the civilised races of the earth.

However, the black gaze can also be just as restrictive. One of the problems is that there is often a difference between language and understanding. Extending from this, language is often contested and tells you where you are, as much as it tells you who you are. Interestingly, Grant reflects on the fact that English is his first language:

Yet English is my first language – in truth my only language. To learn Wiradjuri is like learning Chinese, or French or Italian; I can speak the words but never truly hold the thoughts. That may be my loss, but in English I find the words to describe myself.

Race is a lie that we give power to. It exists in the eye of the beholder

Race exists in the eye of the beholder; just like magic what we believe we see. Black can be whatever we want it to be, Jews have been ‘black’; Irish, Greeks, Italians have been ‘black’. Funny thing, the more familiar we become – the closer we get to white – the less black we are.

DIscussing Barbara and Karen Field’s book Racecraft, Grant eplains how race is often used as a way of deflecting our attention away from racism.

Race matters, even if the evidence tells us it should not. Shifting our language is not some ‘Kumbaya’, all-hold-hands fantasy; it is urgent: race exacts a terrible human toll. Barbara and Karen Fields, remind us that ‘race is the principle unit and core concept of racism’.

Part 4: History

In the section on ‘history’, Grant explores the relationship between history, memory and forgiveness. When considering history of ideas, he pushes back on the abandonment of ‘dead white men’. For Grant, if we want to understand the world we are in then we need to engage with the figures that laid the platform for liberalism, democracy, human rights, globalisation, patriarchy, white privilege, and structural inequality. With this said, it needs to be appreciated that liberalism has sown the seeds of both destruction and liberation.

It is inarguable that the revolutions – technological, industrial, philosophical – begun in eighteenth-century Europe have transformed our world. Democracy, capitalism, freedom of expression, universal rights, individualism, rule of law, separation of church and state, accelerated change in a way never before seen in human history. We are today more literate, more materially wealthy, and healthier than ever before. We are more connected to each other, borders have come down and trade moves more freely. Peoples have thrown off the yoke of imperialism and have looked to bodies forged out of Enlightenment principles of liberalism, like the United Nations, to enshrine the rights of previously colonised or indigenous peoples. As I will write later, liberalism has sown the seeds of both destruction and liberation.

Turning back to history, Grant explains that memory is not history.

As David Rieff said, ‘The takeover of history by memory is also the takeover of history by politics.’

Memory can provide belonging or poison the soul.

Memory is a chain linking us to a past from which we forge our identity. At its best it has given me a place to belong and a pride in my heritage and my family’s resilience. But there is a downside. Bitter memory can poison the soul; at its worst it can feel more like a noose, strangling us, choking us off from the world.

Associated with memory is the Importance of forgiveness. As Desmond Tutu stated in reference to Apartheid, “without forgiveness, there is no future.” The opposite of this is resentment. This is epitomised by the life and work of Jean Amery, where resentment turns inward until vengeance destroys us. Amery is Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘Ressentiment Man’, a prisoner of his past, defined by historical grievance and driven by hatred and desire for revenge.

Where Hegel saw history as progress, the quest for recognition and freedom, ‘Ressentiment Man’ is caught in a time warp, returning always to the source of injustice that he cannot fix and does not want to fix. History, for him, is a festering wound, to be picked at over and over, never allowed to heal. His suffering is his strength; his weakness the greatest weapon he has over his oppressor. Nietzsche saw this as the morality of the slave, an inversion of power where the downtrodden emerge triumphant. But to Nietzsche ‘Ressentiment Man’ is a loathsome character.

His soul squints; his mind loves hidden crannies, tortuous paths and backdoors, everything secret appeals to him as his world, his safety, his balm; he is past master in silence, in not forgetting.

Grant explains that forgiving and forgetting is not amnesia, rather it is a choice to ‘acknowledge, commemorate and put aside’. In the end, forgiveness for the past offers a greater opportunity for justice and peace.

Philosopher Paul Ricoeur says forgiveness has a ‘poetic power’, it shatters ‘the law of the irreversibility of time by changing the past, not as a record of all that has happened but in terms of its meaning for us today’.

Part 5: Nation

In the section on ‘Nation’, Grant explores the way in which nations are constructed. He explains that a nation is an ever evolving story. For Australia, this story has been that of ‘terra nullius’.

That’s what a nation is: a story. Stories are how we explain ourselves to each other. It is a story that we imbibe, and a story we so rarely question. What is our story? It is terra nullius. Historian Stuart Macintyre calls it a story of ‘a sleeping land finally brought to life’.

However, there is always other elements in the margins, which sit outside the dominant narrative. For Australia, one such element is the plethora of Aboriginal names used when naming the land, names which offer a constant reminder that Australia was not ’empty’.

Where I grew up there was Narrandera, Wagga Wagga, Cootamundra, Gundagai; it was as if the settlers were reminding themselves whose land this was even as the local people were being forced off.

A sleeping land, brought to life – empty land – the legal fiction struck down by the High Court in the Mabo decision, but so deeply lodged in the Australian consciousness that for much of this nation’s history it rendered Indigenous people invisible.

The challenge indigenous people face when it comes to Australia and nationhood is, “how to live as people with rights and dignity in a country that has historically denied those rights.”

We cannot separate the land from murder. But when we put down our books we return to our daily lives of family, work, school and sport, and push aside those dark thoughts. It is a privilege that other Australians enjoy. I wonder what it must be like to know contentment. It eludes me. Modern Australia was not built for Aboriginal people, my black ancestors were expected not even to survive.

Grant states that a referendum around constitutional recognition serves as both an opportunity and a threat. An opportunity to say, “we are now one people”, recognition of the First Peoples of the land, to have a voice on matters that impact them, and to complete what was started in 1967. However, it is also a threat to the dominant narrative about who we as ‘one people’ are. Because of this, such changes will always depend upon conservative support.

One of the challenges with change is that the expectations around recognition are not reciprocal, rather it often asks more of indigenous people.

Recognition has always appeared to me to ask more of black people than white, Aboriginal people feel strongly the expectations that they will forgive their fellow.

Philosophically, liberalism is tougher for people of colour.

Liberalism asks easier questions of white people; it poses tougher questions of someone like me. I have to work harder to embrace it; I have to push the limits of liberalism until it bends to include me.

Quoting from a lecture by Peter Yu in 2018, Grant explains how politically substance has been traded for symbolism.

Reconciliation, Yu said, with a commitment to a full political settlement ‘no longer exists’, it has ‘lost its moral and political gravitas’. As a nation, we have traded substance for symbolism. This was a devastating appraisal of the abject failure of Australia to heal its deepest wound, while Indigenous people continued to fill our prisons and cemeteries.

The question Grant is left wondering is whether liberalism a big enough idea to liberate Aboriginal people?

In his 2014 Quarterly Essay ‘A Rightful Place’, Pearson challenged Australia as to whether its ‘system of democracy enables an extreme minority to participate in a fair way.’ Pearson wrote:

The scale and moral urgency of the Indigenous predicament far exceeds the power of Indigenous participation in the country’s democratic process.

Pearson had belled the cat. Here was the fundamental question of Australia, it is the question that turns over and over in my mind – it is the question that has hovered over my every thought in this book – is liberalism a big enough idea to liberate me from the chokehold of race, identity and history? If liberalism works for others, can it work for me?

One of the problems with liberalism is that, as “a philosophy of progress, it doesn’t cope well with the past.” Borrowing from Tommie Shelby, Grant suggests that a move would be a focus on ‘thin blackness’, where the emphasis is on justice, rather than identity politics.

African-American, Tommie Shelby, says we can pursue justice without reverting to the divisive politics of identity. He walks a delicate line between what he calls ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ blackness. As the labels imply, thick blackness emphasises racial solidarity; thin blackness puts the emphasis on justice.

For Grant, recognising the inherent rights of First Peoples is actually a means of setting everyone free.

Coming back to the idea of ‘Australia Day’, Grant explains that more than a day or a date, it needs to address who we are as a nation, even with all its tensions. Regarding the idea that a nation is a story, Grant chooses to believe a story of hope over indifference.

The story of this country asks us to choose: what do we believe? Must I be cursed like Sisyphus, forever doomed to roll the boulder of our history to the top of the mountain only to return again to the bottom? A nation is a narrative, it is a story, it is what we imagine, it is what we choose. For me, I choose the historian, Inga Clendinnen, and the ‘springtime of trust’ over the anthropologist, Bill Stanner and his ‘history of indifference’. Is this naive? No, it is hope. This is the hope of the storytellers who have shaped my life.


I spent a long time with Australia Day. I listened to Grant’s reading of it twice and spent a lot of time reflecting upon it. I had also read parts of it previously in The Australian Dream. Although it is structured around five key themes, the book is very much a wrestle. In some ways it feels this way as Grant tries hard to find space in the in-between. However, it also feels like a book very much written for readers. To borrow a quote from Richard Flanagan in conversation with Claire Nichols:

Books are created by readers, not writers. So the more space you leave for the reader to create the story, the more chance you have of writing something that might have meaning for readers.

Source: Richard Flanagan on the atomic bomb, HG Wells and a kiss by The Book Show

With Grant, this space often comes in the form of ideas that are seemingly complete and incomplete at the same time. Ideas that often lead you as a reader to dive down rabbit holes.

One such rabbit hole that I was left thinking about was Grant’s discussion of stories and notions of truth. In Truth and Truthfulness, Bernard Williams discusses the relative way in which we choose truths to form narrative:

There is no way in which the king’s death could have happened “for” the Anglo-Saxon chronicler and not happened “for” us, or the Germans have invaded Belgium in 1914 “for” some cultures and not for others. The same holds for many small-scale explanations: if the king was murdered, someone killed him, period. What is relative is the interest that selectively forms a narrative and puts some part of the past into shape.

Source: Truth and Truthfulness by Bernard Williams

Published in 2019, I cannot help but think about this in regards to the failure of the referendum and what it means for the story of our nation.

I think that Australia Day is one of those books that I will continue to come back to in the way I think about things and what it means to be an Australian.


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Fiction puts you in shoes that are not comfortable. Christos Tsiolkas

The In-Between by Christos Tsiolkas captures the relationship between two middle age men, Perry and Ivan. Both are seeking love again, but also carry with them their own histories of regret that forever haunts them. Structurally, the novel is divided into a number of days spread over a several years. Through these glimpses into the everyday, we are given an insight into the challenges of balancing life in-between the past and the present.


I remember watching Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, one of the many films that makes up the Marvel universe. At the start of the film, there is a bus scene where the hero is confronted by a group of thugs. One of the things that always seems odd in this supposed ordinary situation is who are the other people in these scenes? For example, what is on the laptop sliced in half by a sword? Did it have a PhD on it in draft format? Was it backed up in the cloud? None of this is ever addressed. Ordinary people do not matter when there are superheroes around. Whereas for Christos Tsoilkas, these other people standing on the edge of the stage are often placed front and centre and given prime place with the narrative. Whether it is an old couple on a train returning from remembering a relative’s passing or a palliative nurse looking out her window after a long shift in which her patient passed away, these moments not only add perspective, but remind us that there are people who exist both in and beyond the book. This is something Michael Williams touches on in his review for the The Saturday Paper:

There’s a trick Christos Tsiolkas does in his eighth novel, The In-Between. At several points in the action, as the central drama plays out in the foreground, the focus drifts away. Tsiolkas brings our attention instead to a passing youth on the street or the gaze of another commuter.

Despite these glances away, The In-Between is an intensely interior book with Tsiolkas’s trademark unflinching intimacy and access to the thoughts, fears, rages and lusts of his characters. It makes these other moments all the more acute when they occur. They offer us an external view of proceedings, giving us the distance to see our protagonists afresh

Source: Christos Tsiolkas – The In-Between by Michael Williams

What I like about Tsiolkas’ writing is his ability to capture the seemingly everyday. In The In-Between, he manages to make reference to everything from responses to Brittany Higgins rape allegation, changes to places like Preston and Frankston, Classic FM playing Talking Heads and Split Enz, the turn away from news and talk back, or capturing a situation on a smartphone. These various choices feel less like polemical statements, than being moments for the reader to ponder. As Tsiolkas stated in an interview with Raphael Epstein:

What I want from fiction is that it sets up questions.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’ new novel The In-Between – ABC Listen by ABC Radio Melbourne

Sean O’Beirne picks up on this in his review for The Monthly, when he talks about the unstable nature of our senses and perceptions.

Though of course plenty of writers can supply the smaller details, what makes Tsiolkas exceptional is his ability to show how excessive and unstable our senses are, how we never just enjoy our perceptions in some benign way, but find them turning continuously into greed, and then shame, and then greed again.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’s ‘The In-Between’ (Review) by Sean O’Beirne

Although the two central characters, Perry and Ivan, are in-between in so many ways, whether it be language, place, class or age, I feel that when it comes down to it, the book highlights how we are all in-between in some respect. For example, relationships are in-between, whether it be as a friend, a parent, a sibling. We are always in-between regarding the public and private. Conversations exist in-between. Knowing someone through social media, by ghosting them, exists in-between. As an extension of all this, I feel that the author too exists in this in-between, not dead, but not defined. Caught between characters, perspectives and points of view.


In a conversation with Tsiolkas, Rafael Epstein talks about how The In-Between allows readers to walking inside someone else’s shoes and see people more clearly. I am not sure if I all of the sudden know what other people think or feel after reading it, rather for me the novel provides a deeper appreciation of the other. For example, after rain, the grass often looks greener, while the smell of eucalyptus often perfumes the air. I felt the same after reading The In-Between, my world was not magically transformed, rather I was made more conscious of the world around. In response to Epstein’s comment, Tsiolkas suggests that,

Fiction puts you in shoes that are not comfortable.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’ new novel The In-Between – ABC Listen by ABC Radio Melbourne

I like this point. When you have uncomfortable shoes, how become aware of every step.


I saw The In-Between come up in my new releases in my local library app and decided to unwittingly dive in. I was not disappointed. I think this is one of those books that will linger with me for a long time.


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Ultimately, the essence of being a Stolen person is that you’re always trying to find out who the hell you are. Jack Charles ‘Born-again Blakfella’

I was recently speaking to someone about the referendum whether to change the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. They complained that indigenous people have had the same opportunities as the rest of us, including the right to vote, therefore they did not know why they needed a special ‘voice’. I must admit, although I disagree with their point of view, I was somewhat lost for the words to say in response and decided to just leave the conversation at that.

Jack Charles’ autobiography Jack Charles: Born-again Blakfella helped clarify to me why the changes outlined in the the Uluru Statement from the Heart are so important to aid in the healing process.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an invitation to the Australian people from First Nations Australians. It asks Australians to walk together to build a better future by establishing a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution, and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission for the purpose of treaty making and truth-telling.

Source: View The Statement – Uluru Statement from the Heart

A child of the stolen generation, Charles talks about being taken away from his mother at two months age (only because she left the hospital before they could take him away after being born). Instead he was brought up as the only indigenous child in Box Hill Boys Home. There he and the other boys were abused by the Salvation Army officers. The legacy of this experience led Charles to a life balanced between the world of theatre, and a life of drugs, crime and homelessness.

Published in 2019, a few years before his passing in 2022, this book is written with the hindsight of a long life. Although frustrated with politics, the prison system, at Australia’s ‘unique racism’ and the failure to bring about treaty, this is never offered as some sort of excuse to some of the choices made in Charles’ complicated life. Instead, this book can itself be considered as a form of healing.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give to anybody struggling with the trauma of past abuse is to talk about it. It’s difficult to open up, but I try to encourage folks to reflect on themselves during those moments of suffering – without a sense of blame and shame. What you were subjected to is a part of your lived experience and, as unfortunate as it is, it happened. Come what may, you have to relegate it to a section of the old grey matter up top. Leave it there, until you wanna talk about it in a group session or it comes up naturally in conversation.

I think that what makes this book so powerful is Charles’ (and Namila Benson) storytelling. I often found myself unsure whether to laughing or cry. Whether it be writing letters home for fellow inmates in prison.

It was always whitefellas getting me to write their letters. I don’t remember any blakfellas asking me to write for them. I’d make sure to use just the right language and phrases so these unsuspecting women back home would know they were number one. And the payment for my efforts? Tobacco and chocolate. This letter-writing business held me in good stead. I always rolled out of prison having gained a few pounds.

Collecting rent in the form of burglaries.

When I discovered my connection to this traditional land, I started thinking of my burgs as ‘collecting rent’; taking back just a small piece of what had been cruelly stolen from me and my people.

Performing naked at the Opera House in response to sexism.

The Opera House waited until the very last moment before finally calling me and agreeing to pay all the girls the correct fee. I told them, ‘I’m so pissed off with you, ya bastards. Y’know, making those girls wait so long.’ I paused but there was no response. Time to pull out the big guns. ‘Okay, I’ll stay, but I’m going to do Bennelong naked. Fuck yas.’ It seemed like a fair exchange for the stress we’d been put under. And so I did it. Wandered on stage and performed the show with me willy dangling on the Opera House stage.

And faking it as an ‘actor’.

They had to know full well that I, Jack Charles, was too far up meself to audition. It’s true. When it comes to acting roles, auditioning and getting knocked back just won’t do. I’m very lucky to be in the unique position where I’m not forced to audition in order to be seriously considered for roles. The great Australian actor Bill Hunter never auditioned either, so I take my lead from him. He told me once, ‘I get away with it so often, Jack. Thing is, I can’t act but everybody reckons I can.’ It was a relief to hear someone of his calibre say that, not to mention his advice that I should be more assertive. I responded, ‘Well, I’m in the same boat, Bill. So long as we know our lines and create the illusion of being someone else, then we’ll get across the line. You know, if it works for us, it’ll work for the audience.’

Maybe this book was not about me (clearly not, it was about Jack Charles), however I cannot help think about my own experiences and how I might have behaved differently. I was, in hindsight, lucky enough to teach at a Koori school. I remember being frustrated at times with how I was treated. For example, I would walk down the street and hear ‘pinky’ hollered at the top of one of my student’s lungs. In hindsight, I think this was actually there sign of respect. Often having been somewhat rejected by the mainstream school, I imagine there were many teachers they would not have given the time of day to, let alone called out to. Even with my academic awareness of ‘The Stolen Generation’, I feel that autobiographies like this and Archie Roach’s Tell Me Why help to appreciate the ongoing legacy of such a decision and who change is so important.


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Our history is an aggregate of last moments. Thomas Pynchon ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’

I am not sure if I bought Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow or was gifted it, either way it has sat on my shelf for years. Haunting me, maybe even mocking me. I remember reading The Crying of Lot 49, but never got around to Gravity’s Rainbow. In my recent dive into the world of audiobooks, I found a reading of it by George Guidall via Open Culture. I thought this might be a compromise.

To be honest, although I knew Gravity’s Rainbow was ‘about a rocket’, I did not really know much beyond that. I wonder if this alongside the size of the book is what held me off. After finishing the novel, I kind of know why I did not know much. It is not a novel easily summarised. Take for example this collection of attempts:

Gravity’s Rainbow reads like a kaleidoscopic fusion of violent history, conflicting socio-political and economic interests, scientific and metaphysical notions, collective and individual fantasies and dreams, that merges fact and fiction, which are created and supervised by controlling systems of various origins, including film industry, where artificial prefigures the real, implementing psychological manipulation to constitute desired perceptions of reality and history.

Source: “Cinematic” Gravity’s Rainbow: Indiscernibility of the Actual and the Virtual by Lovorka Gruic Grmusa

To describe any novel is to do it a disservice, and in some cases, you shouldn’t even bother. Thus, having failed on numerous occasions to describe Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon’s colossal, parabolic wonderland of a novel, I’ve simply stopped trying. Not only because it is essentially unsummarizeable, but because now, 50 years after its release, it still evades our understanding. (The only 20th century novel less penetrable is perhaps Finnegans Wake, and at times, Pynchon gives Joyce a run for his money.) Now, when asked about the book, I simply tell people what they can expect: rocket physics, sex, coprophagia, pedophilia, giant octopuses/adenoids, riffs on thermodynamics, Pavlovian conditioning, speculative chemistry; secret cabals, Nazi-mysticism, drugs, sea shanties, an acid trip of a last chapter, and a whole lot else.

Source: Beyond the Rainbow by Jared Marcel Pollen

Can Gravity’s Rainbow be difficult and obscure? Sure. Does it contain an unusually large amount of sadomasochism, pedophilia, and coprophagy for a literary classic? Certainly. Does it have a grim view of Western history? How could it not? But Gravity’s Rainbow presents its dark materials with such an unremittingly innocent flamboyance, and wears its prodigious learning with such a democratic exuberance, that it continues to attract not only serious scholars and critics but also enthusiastic fans, a cohort of readers whose relatively small size is more than made up for by its intense devotion.

Source: History Is Hard to Decode: On 50 Years of Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” by M. Keith Booker

Each attempt captures a particular perspective, but never the whole. Interestingly, the rocket is often considered as something of a red-herring. Instead, it maybe better appreciated as a dive into the experience of being paranoid. This is framed around his ‘Proverbs for Paranoids’:

  1. You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.
  2. The innocence of the creature is in inverse proportion to the immorality of the Master.
  3. If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.
  4. You hide, They seek.
  5. Paranoids are not paranoids because they’re paranoid, but because they keep putting themselves, fucking idiots, deliberately into paranoid situations.

When paranoia is our means of making sense it leaves one wondering whether sense matters. What is and is not fact. As reader we experience this sense of paranoia through the act of reading. As Craig Getting and Andrew Cunningham capture in their discussion:

Sometimes it’s hard to tell when his making something up and when his referencing something real. Similarly it’s hard to tell if an event is actually occurring or if somebody is hallucinating. Also Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a character died or not.

Source: Ep 319 – Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon by Overdue Podcast

For me, Gravity’s Rainbow is a chaotic reflection of a chaotic world. To borrow from Peter Goldsworthy,

Cartoon pictures how else to describe a cartoon world.

Maestro by Peter Goldsworthy

Like Paul Auster with his New York Trilogy, Gravity’s Rainbow is about trying to find a language to describe the world. As with writers such as Samuel Beckett and Joseph Heller, absurdity is at the heart of this language.

Another thing to stand out in the world created by Pynchon was the primacy of the image. I often found myself remembering scenes, rather than any sort of ‘narrative’. Lovorka Gruic Grmusa explains this with reference to the place of cinematography:

Cinematography was the first medium which created the illusion of motion by manipulating and animating still images so that motion-picture photography is perceived as continuous movement, disseminating the creative capacities of the medium and generating immensely original and multifaceted realms that alter existing conceptions of reality. Pynchon unravels these permutations of image manipulation in Gravity’s Rainbow, exposing film as an apparatus and a thematic composition, but what is more, the novel’s cinematic ambience captures the shift in human consciousness at the close of World War II.

Source: “Cinematic” Gravity’s Rainbow: Indiscernibility of the Actual and the Virtual by Lovorka Gruic Grmusa

This discussion of cinematography is not just the way of seeing, but also the endless cultural references.

In the end, on finishing the novel I appreciated the Pulitzer Prize jury concern about the novel. I often found myself one minute loving Pynchon’s turn of phrase, while the next minute cringing at some piece of absurdity. In The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Martin Flanagan says,

A good book leaves you wanting to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your own soul.

Source: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Martin Flanagan

With this in mind, I was left thinking that Gravity’s Rainbow was a great book as it left me thinking about my own thoughts and responses to so much. I can appreciate why people talk about rereading this on a regular basis. It therefore serves as a great source of meditation.


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Stories happen only to those who are able to tell them, someone once said. In the same way, perhaps, experiences present themselves only to those who are able to have them. Paul Auster ‘The New York Trilogy’

I remember going to Andy Warhol’s Time Capsule exhibition and seeing his film Kiss. It captured something in so much detail that I was left unsure exactly what to think about it. I had a similar experience reading Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy.

The ‘trilogy’ includes three separate novels – City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1986) – that serve as something of a whole. However, as Robert Briggs discusses, the trilogy is not straight-forward.

Nevertheless, a few points of correspondence can be found between the three stories, which could define Auster’s collection as not so much a nonidentical or uncertain trilogy as rather a trilogy about the nonidentical and the uncertain. So, although there is little continuity between genre and character, there is a certain persistence of duplicitous identities.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

In a discussion on BBC World Service, Auster posits that ‘triptych’ might be a better word for the series, but does not have the same sound, therefore trilogy it is.

The novel has been described as ‘anti-detective’.

The re-working of the detective story as a search for the ultimate language shows that it is not the final and speculative textualization that is most appropriate for the postmodern world, but instead, the text that is written about the text. Stories about stories and books of questions, as opposed to books of answers, are the forms that best typify the difficult reality of our times. The New York Trilogy participates in the deconstruction of the legendary tower of the ancestral city and its language, as it describes the Babel-like shattering of the contemporary metropolis at the same time that it expresses the crisis surrounding linguistic representation. Its ideological structure of a wandering through and a detachment from pre-existing principles forces the postmodern subject to question the basis of all legendary archetypes.

Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento

For me, this is where a gun is oddly both just a gun as well as something more, and you are never really sure which it is. Auster has said that the genre serves as a means to an end in the same way as Beckett uses vaudeville in Waiting for Godot. Whereas detection fiction is usually about answering question, Auster flips this expectation by using it to ask questions. This approach creates a feeling of excess, where there is always too much happening. Our desire for sense and control is always challenged. Take this quote from the end of City of Glass:

For the most part his entries from this period consisted of marginal questions concerning the Stillman case. Quinn wondered, for example, why he had not bothered to look up the newspaper reports of Stillman’s arrest in 1969. He examined the problem of whether the moon landing of that same year had been connected in any way with what had happened. He asked himself why he had taken Auster’s word for it that Stillman was dead. He tried to think about eggs and wrote out such phrases as “a good egg,” “egg on his face,” “to lay an egg,” “to be as like as two eggs.” He wondered what would have happened if he had followed the second Stillman instead of the first. He asked himself why Christopher, the patron saint of travel, had been decanonized by the Pope in 1969, just at the time of the trip to the moon. He thought through the question of why Don Quixote had not simply wanted to write books like the ones he loved— instead of living out their adventures. He wondered why he had the same initials as Don Quixote. He considered whether the girl who had moved into his apartment was the same girl he had seen in Grand Central Station reading his book. He wondered if Virginia Stillman had hired another detective after he failed to get in touch with her. He asked himself why he had taken Auster’s word for it that the check had bounced. He thought about Peter Stillman and wondered if he had ever slept in the room he was in now. He wondered if the case was really over or if he was not somehow still working on it. He wondered what the map would look like of all the steps he had taken in his life and what word it would spell.

All in all, it is a novel that attempts to find a means of coming to grips with the world.

One must understand how the universe functions before one confronts it with the force of creativity; this is the writer’s task. In citing Samuel Beckett, Auster defines his own ideological and literary bent, thereby depicting his profound critical acumen and his feeling for the mission of the artist: “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.”

Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento

Another interesting feature of the novel is the place of ‘New York’. This is as much as an internalised space. Clara Sarmento makes the comparison between New York and Walden’s forest.

The confining within the walls of New York is very similar to the solitude of the forest found in Henry Thoreau’s Walden, recollections of which dominate the Trilogy. In both these works, the authors achieve perfect isolation within the spaces delineated by the city or the forest that endows them with a transcending ability to observe and reflec

Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento

In the end, the New York Trilogy feels like one of those conversations that you forget how or why it actually started once it has finished. Auster’s style has a music and rhythm to it in which you can easily become consumed. I like how Robert Briggs captures this in his reading of the novel:

Even though you might start off reading fiction, you can’t expect, in the end, not to find yourself writing the story of your life.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

While Gary Matthew Varner argues that the book is ‘rhizomatic’ in that is ‘nullifies endings’:

What makes Auster’s Trilogy endless, and rhizomatic, is that it “nullif[ies] endings” (Deleuze and Guattari 25) … Readers may not want to begin reading Auster’s book at any point in any volume, but the Trilogy nevertheless nullifies its own “endings.”

Source: Paul Auster’s rhizomatic fictions by Gary Matthew Varner


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He found out that those processes wrongly known as “monologues” are really dialogues of a special kind; dialogues in which one partner remains silent while the other, against all grammatical rules, addresses him as “I” instead of “you”, in order to creep into his confidence and to fathom his intentions; but the silent partner just remains silent, shuns observation and even refuses to be localized in time and space. Arthur Koestler ‘Darkness at Noon’

Growing up, I remember my grandfather recommending Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon to me. I think our conversation was around capturing war through fiction. It was one of those recommendations which I noted, but for one reason or another never got around to reading til now.

Darkness at Noon is based on the Moscow trials. This was a series of show trials held in the late 1930s involving Nikolai Bukharin and twenty of his Soviet government colleagues were accused of a host of crimes, such as plotting to assassinate Lenin and Stalin, carving up the Soviet empire, and restoring capitalism. Darkness at Noon revolves around a fictional old Bolshevik, Rubashov, who has been arrested and tried for treason.

The novel was written quickly after these trials in difficult circumstances, starting it in the summer of 1939 and finishing in April 1940.

Koestler describes the unfolding of what he calls ‘Kafkaesque events’ in his life; spending four months in the concentration camp in the Pyrenees and being released in January 1940, only to be continuously harassed by the police. “During the next three months I finished the novel in the hours snatched between interrogations and searches of my flat, in the constant fear that I would be arrested again and the manuscript of Darkness at Noon confiscated”.

Source: Darkness at Noon by Wikipedia

A German copy of the finished manuscript was sent to Switzerland and an English copy was sent with Daphne Hardy, Koestler’s girlfriend at the time, who – even though she had no prior experience – had actually translated the novel. The German copy was lost until 2015, when it was rediscovered, so it was Hardy’s translated copy which was eventually published.

The original title for the book was The Vicious Circle, but this was rejected by the publishers, Jonathan Cape. Hardy was unable to contact Koestler as he was still trying to make his way to England, suggested Darkness at Noon, taking it from the book of Job:

They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope in the noonday as in the night.

Source: JOB 5:14

Whether it be secret meetings between agents, the process of interrogation or communicating by code in jail, the novel paints a picture of life under communist rule. It explores the fraught nature, where one moment you maybe marking others for death, only to then be marked yourself. At one moment, the butcher sacrificing lambs so lambs will no longer be sacrificed, only for the tide to turn and then to become the lamb that is being butchered.

He is damned always to do that which is most repugnant to him: to become a slaughterer, in order to abolish slaughtering, to sacrifice lambs so that no more lambs may be slaughtered, to whip people with knouts so that they may learn not to let themselves be whipped, to strip himself of every scruple in the name of a higher scrupulousness, and to challenge the hatred of mankind because of his love for it—an abstract and geometric love.

Source: Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

This fragile environment is epitomised by the discussion of execution of Bogrov over his interpretation of the choice of submarines to be developed.

Bogrov advocated the construction of submarines of large tonnage and a long range of action. The Party is in favour of small submarines with a short range. You can build three times as many small submarines for your money as big ones. Both parties had valid technical arguments. The experts made a big display of technical sketches and algebraic formulae; but the actual problem lay in quite a different sphere. Big submarines mean: a policy of aggression, to further world revolution. Small submarines mean: coastal defense – that is, self-defense and postponement of world revolution. The latter is the point of view of No. 1, and the Party.

Source: Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

It does not matter if the party and No.1 later changes tacks, therefore absolving Bogrov of the difference of opinion, it is always about being in line with the messaging.

Beyond communist life, Darkness at Noon delves into the world of the internal dialogue. In a space where everything is for the party, this is always an unknown. In part the novel investigates the alienation associated with psychological torture. An example of this is Rubashov’s discussion of monologue as dialogue:

He found out that those processes wrongly known as “monologues” are really dialogues of a special kind; dialogues in which one partner remains silent while the other, against all grammatical rules, addresses him as “I” instead of “you”, in order to creep into his confidence and to fathom his intentions; but the silent partner just remains silent, shuns observation and even refuses to be localized in time and space.

Source: Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

More than this though, it is an investigation into how and why somebody might come to the position of admitting guilt for something that they know is not necessarily true.

The show trials were both a symptom of this corruption and proof of the rot that was undermining the whole system, and the most loyal party members among the accused had confessed because the ideological ground beneath their feet had been cut away and they had nothing more to believe in. It was their resulting psychological collapse that Koestler wished to explore, rather than the mechanisms of the trials themselves.

In turning against the party they had lost their sole source of support and, unable to resist any further, confessed to their “crimes” as a “last service to the party.”

Source: The Eerily Prescient Lessons of Darkness at Noon by Michael Scammell (Lithub)

It is interesting to compare Koestler’s investigation of the internal dialogue with George Orwell’s 1984, a book written after Darkness at Noon, but also about totalitarian regimes. Orwell was clearly influenced by Koestler, having reviewed Darkness at Noon in 1941 for The New Statesman:

Brilliant as this book is as a novel, and a piece of brilliant literature, it is probably most valuable as an interpretation of the Moscow “confessions” by someone with an inner knowledge of totalitarian methods. What was frightening about these trials was not the fact that they happened – for obviously such things are necessary in a totalitarian society – but the eagerness of Western intellectuals to justify them.

Source: The Untouched Legacy of Arthur Koestler and George Orwell

Unlike Koestler, whose exploration is largely after Rubashov has been arrested, Orwell provides an insight into Winston Smith’s inner thoughts and decision to betray the party as they happen.

Although both had become disillusioned after spending time fighting in the Spanish Civil War, Orwell had a different take on Communism. For him, it is largely about power, as Adam Kirsch explains:

Koestler’s reckoning with Communism is very different from Orwell’s vision in “1984,” which was published nine years later. In Orwell’s dystopia, “Ingsoc,” English socialism, is not really an ideology at all, just a tissue of lies and a tool for mass hypnosis. The Party’s leader, O’Brien, famously tells Winston Smith, after his arrest, that the core of its appeal is pure sadism, the pleasure of exercising total power over another: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” Stalinism, for Orwell, dressed up this power worship in a lot of meaningless doctrine that people learned to repeat without thinking about it—what the novel calls “duckspeak.”

Source: The Desperate Plight Behind “Darkness at Noon” by Adam Kirsch (The New Yorker)

In some respects, the novel is dated, especially in regards to Communism and its threat to society. However, as Adam Kirsch captures, at some point every political creed faces the question of what evil means are justified for noble ends:

Its central theme will probably always seem timely, because every political creed must eventually face the question of whether noble ends can justify evil means. As Koestler saw, this problem reached its pure form in Communism because its avowed aim was the noblest of all: the permanent abolition of social injustice throughout the world. If this could be achieved, what price would be too high? Maybe a million or ten million people would die today, but if billions would be happy tomorrow wasn’t that worth it?

Source: The Desperate Plight Behind “Darkness at Noon” by Adam Kirsch (The New Yorker)


Place between Nineteen Eighty-Four and Stasiland on the bookshelf.


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Just as a tangent touches a circle lightly and at but one point, with this touch rather than with the point setting the law according to which it is to continue on its straight path to infinity, a translation touches the original lightly and only at the infinitely small point of the sense, thereupon pursuing its own course according to the laws of fidelity in the freedom of linguistic flux. Walter Benjamin ‘Task of the Translator’

Each January, on the Sizzletown podcast, Tony Martin tides over the holiday season with an unplugged version. This involves going back through his movie diaries from the 80’s. Each listing includes the name of the film and a five star rating. The podcast is basically him making sense of these ratings. One of the things that I find while listening is how much the rating seems superfluous to the explanation as to why he provided the rating. Personally, I always find it hard while listening to music or reading books as to how you make a judgment call. Often I am more interested in different ideas and beginnings and how this all changes in time.


Back in 1997, I went with my step-sister to see Romeo and Juliet at Knox City. Before the film, we went to JB-HiFi. This was before it had been floated on the stock exchange and stores were still somewhat rare. In addition to inquirying about a mobile phone (something else rare at the time), my sister bought a Celine Deon CD. I on the other hand bought Double Allergic by Powderfinger. My sister was mystified. She had never heard of Powderfinger. As time passed, I am pretty sure she found out who Powerfinger were and for me they went on the back burner.


In her review of JP Hartley’s novel, The Go-Between, Ali Smith argues that ‘books are go-betweens’.

Books are, in essence, go-betweens, works which conjure rhythm and release across time and history, across places of familiarity and those foreign to us; and personally and individually, too, it’s all a going-between, for every person who picks up a book for a first, then a second, then a third time.

Source: Rereading: The Go-Between by LP Hartley by Ali Smith

I would argue the music is the same. Different music, touches different people, at different times.

In Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘The Task of the Translator‘, he discusses the purpose of translation. Instead of conforming to the reader, the translator should conform to the source and target language of the work. The purpose is to highlight the relationship between the two languages, and how they complement each other. In his discussion of this, he gives the analogy of the tangent touching the circle:

Just as a tangent touches a circle lightly and at but one point, with this touch rather than with the point setting the law according to which it is to continue on its straight path to infinity, a translation touches the original lightly and only at the infinitely small point of the sense, thereupon pursuing its own course according to the laws of fidelity in the freedom of linguistic flux.

Source: Task of the Translator by Walter Benjamin

I wonder if there is something in this ‘tangent’? Each listener hears an artist at a particular point in time from a particular point of view, in some ways they translate it into their own world.


In Raymond Williams’ Marxism and Literature, he talks about the notion of the ‘dominant, the risidual and the emergent’. For Williams, culture is always in one of three phases. As WIlliam’ touches on:

By ’emergent’ I mean, first, that new meanings and values, new practices, new relationships and kinds of relationship are continually being created. But it is exceptionally difficult to distinguish between those which are really elements of some new phase of the dominant culture (and in this sense ‘species-specific’) and those which are substantially alternative or oppositional to it: emergent in the strict sense, rather than merely novel.

Source: Marxism and Literature by Raymond Williams

Thinking about this idea in regards to my purchase of Powderfinger’s Double Allergic, this was clearly an emergent practice. They were on the up. Although they were popular, they were not popular enough to be a household name. For example, I did not jump onboard when they released Internationalist or Odyssey Number Fiver, their ‘popular’ albums.

The question that remains with this is what about those who may have jumped onboard before? For example, what about those who bought into (as my friend’s brother did) the release of Parables for Wooden Ears or invested into them when they were playing covers in Brisbane?


As listeners, we are not only a part of a whole, but we are individuals as well. For me, we hear artists not only as a part of a particular moment in time, but also as a part of one’s individual experiences. Personally, I often find myself seemingly late to the party. For example, I find myself stumbling upon an artist only to become mesmerised by their next release. I did this with Methyl Ethyl’s Are You Haunted. I remember stumbling upon Jake Webb with the release of Triage, however Are You Haunted and I seemed to meet at the right moment. More recently, I had a similar experience with Kimbra. I had listened to and liked Primal Heart, but there is something about A Reckoning that met me at a particular moment.


So What about you? How do you go about ‘rating’ music or rating anything?


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Basically there's night and there's day, and you try and go between that, and you find the twilight zone—and there lies the Go-Betweens. (Robert Forster) David Nichols ‘The Go-Betweens’

There have been many side-effects associated with the pandemic. One has been to jump into untouched classic literature, like Proust. Alternatively, some, such as Kevin Smokler, have suggested returning to a favourite artist, while others, like Colin Marshall, have discussed the process of choosing one artist and listening to each album, once a day for a week. I tried Proust in regards to literature, but like so many before me, waved the white flag after the first two books. Moving on, I decided to dive into an artist I thought I knew, but knew that I had never listened to deeply. The artist I chose was The Go-Betweens.


I am not exactly sure why I chose The Go-Betweens as my deep dive. I had always known The Go-Betweens, but was not sure I really knew The Go-Betweens. One thought was maybe Kriv Stenders’ documentary, Right Here. I initially watched this on ABC iView. I think that I was captured by the discussion of the myth that surrounds the band. Another thought was listening to Missy Higgins’ cover of Was There Anything I Could Do on her album of Australian covers, Oz. Lastly, I was left thinking about Damian Cowell’s comment on the Take 5 podcast:

Use your power wisely … Treat them to an anchovy.

Source: TISM’s Damian Cowell’s songs from the 90s zeitgeist by Take 5 podcast

Although Cowell was speaking about Custard, I could not help but think about The Go-Betweens.


The first question that needs addressing is who were or are The Go-Betweens? First, there is the name. David Nichols’ captures some of origins in his book on the band. The obvious reference is to L.P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between, a story about Leo Coulston who is somewhat unknowingly entangled within an affair which leaves his life forever corrupted. However, some of the other ideas were that the music was a go-between ‘night and day’:

McLENNAN: Oh; we were driving along in a car one time; going to the Exchange Hotel. We drove over the bridge there and we were just thinking of a few names and 1 think Rob came up with the Go-Betweens. Because, we since found out, we went between two types of music, maybe, or …
FORSTER: Basically there’s night and there’s day, and you try and go between that, and you find the twilight zone—and there lies the Go-Betweens. – Page 20

Source: The Go-Betweens by David Nichols

Or between different styles of music:

To be a go-between was far from a negative role in McLennan and Forster’s eyes. They were in between so many places, swamped by a cultural flood. While they faced the reality of Brisbane, the heat, parental pressure, and the influence of punk rock, they also yearned for New York in the 1960s and 1970s, Paris in the 1920s and 1950s, and were fascinated by Timothy Leary Bob Dylan, Tom Verlaine, Françoise Hardy, Samantha Eggar, Richard Hell, Blondie, and the Erasers. All of this was siphoned through a strange, anomalous Brisbane rock group called the Go-Betweens. – Page 52

Source: The Go-Betweens by David Nichols

Interestingly, coming back to Hartley’s novel, Ali Smith describes it as a book about books:

The Go-Between is about books as much as it’s about memory. It’s a model of the importance of rereading (and God knows we treat books lightly – we wouldn’t, after all, expect to know a piece of music properly on just one listen), knowledge and innocence so much part of its structure as to make it a knowingly different book on revisiting. Above all, though, it is a text which works like a charm: books are, in essence, go-betweens, works which conjure rhythm and release across time and history, across places of familiarity and those foreign to us; and personally and individually, too, it’s all a going-between, for every person who picks up a book for a first, then a second, then a third time.

Source: Rereading: The Go-Between by LP Hartley by Ali Smith

Replacing the word ‘books’ with ‘music’, maybe the The Go-Betweens are music or a band that go-betweens, across places familiar and foreign. In the end, the name seems to act as a catchall for whatever meaning listeners are willing to apply.


Going beyond the name, the narrative of the band seems just as disputed. The easy answer is to focus on myth surrounding the two songwriters, Grant McLennan and Robert Forster. They met while studying at University of Queensland, before deciding to form a band on Forster’s behest. Interestingly, Foster was interested in creating a band as an idea:

If a musician couldn’t be found, a friend could be taught. It then followed that a group could be cast like a play or a movie. – Page 25

Source: Grant & I by Robert Forster

Although many compare the partnership between Foster and McLennen as some sort of Australian Lennon and McCartney, there inspiration was as much groups like The Monkees and the ‘band as a flagship’:

FORSTER: Grant and I used to look at products. As a game, I’d go round the kitchen and pick up something like Vegemite. And we’d rattle off five or ten advertising slogans. Products around the kitchen. We were flying! We thought we were geniuses. The band was always the flagship: “If the band becomes famous, everyone’s going to be interested in these ideas. We’ve got to get famous.” The group was the get-famous thing—once that happened, we could go. ‘‘Surprise, surprise, everybody, yeah, we’re pop stars but we’ve got all these other ideas and we’re goddamn flickin’ geniuses. You thought you were only getting two moptop pop stars, what you’re getting is Truffaut and Godard! We’re the Orson Welles of rock.” It didn’t happen. – Page 70

Source: The Go-Betweens by David Nichols

However, The Go-Betweens story is far more complicated than a story about two songwriters.

In My Rock n Roll Friend, Tracey Thorn makes the case that The Go-Betweens are really a classic trio whose true story starts and finishes with Lindy Morrison.

It is Lindy, Robert and Grant who are the original Go-Betweens. It is their band. In the future they might get in backing singers, or keyboard players, or violinists, or sax soloists, or a full-blown bloody orchestra, but the essence remains. They are a classic trio, whatever anyone might say later. – Page 40

Source: My Rock n Roll Friend by Tracey Thorn

Morrison was the drummer for much of the eighties, before McLennan and Forster dramatically pulled the pin on the band. She defied the “fantasies of a chic little French girl” that Foster and McLennan may have intially had. Instead, she provided a particular edge and perspective.

Underplaying Lindy’s contribution does not just do her a disservice: it is self-defeating. It makes them a less interesting band, saddling them with a dull identity when they had a bright and interesting one. It is their final act of self-sabotage. – Page 200

Source: My Rock n Roll Friend by Tracey Thorn

In addition to Morrison, there are others, such as Amanda Brown, Robert Vickers and John Wilsteed, whose legacies served in making the band more than just a duo. Let alone the later additions of Adele Pickvance and Glenn Thompson when the band reformed in the late 90’s.


Although I listened to all the albums in order, I feel they can be organised into two groups. The original line-up featuring Morrison on drums ending with 16 Lovers Lane and the reformed line-up.

The Original Line-Up

Send Me a Lullaby
Before Hollywood
Spring Hill Fair
Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express
Tallulah
16 Lovers Lane

Reformed Line-Up

The Friends of Rachel Worth
Bright Yellow Bright Orange
Oceans Apart

I am not sure if it was because, out of all their albums, I had listened to 16 Lovers Lane the most, but listening to the early albums in more depth and detail felt a little like one of those word puzzles where you change one letter each step until the whole word has changed.

Send Me a Lullaby is an albums that feels like it is trying to find itself.

Released in 1981, it now sounds very much of its time: jerky, influenced by all sorts of even jerkier-sounding British post-punk bands like Gang of Four, the Raincoats and the Slits.

Source: The last time I saw Grant – Griffith Review by Andrew Stafford

Beyond Hollywood adds hooks and texture to develop a more complete sound.

Where Send Me a Lullaby was fragile and occasionally faltering, yet still possessed of an uplifting resonance, Before Hollywood is a more complete album. Endearing as their vulnerability was, the Go-Betweens now play with confidence and solidity, though still with an edge . . . [here] they offer ten deceptively simple pop songs that pack an emotional impact just below a skin of finely wrought and realised melody and rhythmic attack. – Page 209

Source: Stranded by Clinton Walker

With Spring Hill Fair, gone is the contrast between fast and slow of their early albums. This is replaced with the attempt at a slicker pop sound.

With synthesized rhythms—about half the drum tracks are programmed—and “slick” sounds, the album sounds the way a major-label debut is supposed to sound. There may, then, be no readily identifiable reason why Spring Hill Fair doesn’t quite seem to come up to scratch. Perhaps it‘s that the diversity of the songs prevents it from coming together as a cohesive whole.

Source: The Go-Betweens by David Nicholls

Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express parks the technological experimentation, instead going for a more organic approach.

The production credit for Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express (what a wonderfully pretentious title) was going to read, ‘The Go-Betweens and Richard Preston’. There’d be no drum machines, no piecemeal recording, no acquiescence to a higher authority – we were experienced enough in the studio, and flying on the strength of our demoed songs and Richard’s easy, collaborative ways. Our intention was to expand upon the crisp, woody sound of Before Hollywood, to include a grander, more exotic range of instrumentation – vibraphone, oboe, piano accordion, and, at Grant’s suggestion and to my apprehension, a string section. But he was right; we were making music and living lives that demanded strings. And we had a crack rhythm section, with Robert’s swinging melodic bass and Lindy’s signature rolls and fills, inventive and sturdy under every song. – Page 113

Source: Grant & I by Robert Forster

Tallulah is an experimentation in sound and texture. For me, it sounds like a search for the right formula, something of a ‘what if’ album.

Among fans of the Go-Betweens, there’s a school of thought that every second album they made was better than its predecessor: the first exploring a style, the second perfecting it, before they would immediately move on to a new form. In this way, the Go-Betweens’ parameters kept expanding, like Chinese boxes.

Source: The last time I saw Grant – Griffith Review by Andrew Stafford

16 Lovers Lane trades in the funk grooves and distortion of Tallulah, instead replacing this with a bed of acoustic guitars. Although it is heavily produced, leading to some songs being difficult to reproduce live, it still feels subtle and subdued.

I had trouble with 16 Lovers Lane for a long time. It wasn’t until the late nineties that I recognised the album for what it was – a pop record, a far but tine side of what we were as a band. With its spiralling guitars and narcotic groove it became an influential album in noughties pop. On its release my fear was that the production obscured the grit in the songwriting, the added heart Grant and I had put into our lyrics. – Page 140

Source: Grant & I by Robert Forster

I find listening to the reformed albums, The Friends of Rachel Worth, Bright Yellow Bright Orange and Oceans Apart, interesting. There are the usual hooks and melodies, but no matter how much I listen, they do not gel like the early albums.

I wonder if they miss the ‘Go-Betweens drama’ as Amanda Brown has put it or if a part of this disappointment is my own listening experience? I was left wondering whether maybe they missed the flourishes from the likes of Willsteed and Brown? I also wonder if there is something about getting six, seven and eight records in? This also left me thinking about the challenges in listening back through a whole catalogue? When asked about album reviews and music criticism, Caroline Polachek suggested that:

Music criticism is not a review of the album you just made, its a review of your career up to that point. – Caroline Polachek

Source: This Generation’s Caroline Polachek by Switched on Pop

Maybe it just is not possible to listen to their later albums without comparing or even placing them within the context of their time.


One of the things that I found interesting about doing this deep dive is that growing up with the singles, it can be hard to appreciate evolution that I imagine most bands go through it. In addition to this, it provided a deeper appreciation of the music. Bopping along with the jangly guitar of their ‘striped sunlight sound’, with mentions of love and emotions, it is easy to be lulled into their music. However, to come back to Cowell’s point about anchovies, I found that digging into The Go-Betweens more akin to zucchini chocolate cake. When you move beyond the surface, there are often ingredients that surprise you. Maybe this is what made them what they were, while at the same time prevented them from ever quite making it into the mainstream.


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Air is the medium of our natural and spiritual life, of our relation to ourselves, to speaking, to the other Luce Irigaray ‘Way of Love’

In a podcast unpacking biofortification, Jeremy Cherfas explores how science has not delivered on the promises, especially regarding yield. One of the interesting points raised is the idea of ‘hidden hunger’, this is where people get enough food, but not enough micronutrients.

One aspect of malnutrition is hidden hunger, a lack of micronutrients in the diet resulting in poor health that may not manifest for months or years.

Source: What is wrong with biofortification by Maarten van Ginkel and Jeremy Cherfas

This idea had me thinking about our digital diets, where we often get too much information, but not enough critical content. This can subsequently leave us with ‘hidden hunger’. Although we may spend time clicking and consuming social media, there is something missing.

One place I have found myself continually going to over the last few years has been The Minefield podcast featuring lecturer in politics and journalist, Waleed Aly, and, philosopher and theologian, Scott Stephens. Their weekly discussions diving into wicked problems always leave me thinking differently about the world around me. In part, this is for the way in which they never quite agree, but always find some sort of consensus. (For me, their dialogue represents what Angus Hervey describes as holding on tightly and letting go lightly.) I was therefore intrigued to read their Quarterly Essay Uncivil Wars: How Contempt Is Corroding Democracy


At its heart, Uncivil Wars argues that democracy cannot survive contempt. Democracy, Aly and Stephens explain, is about cultivating a common life even in the presence of serious disagreement, while contempt is about having no life in common at all. They suggest that, to make this argument requires a careful consideration of both contempt and democracy, but it also requires us to think about the conditions in which we are going about our democratic lives. So they divide their argument into three stages.

First, we draw on the insights of moral philopsohy to make clear what we mean by contempt and to identify precisely what makes it morally suspect. Along the way, we engage with recent philosophical and policatical arguments that seek to validate contempt in certain circumstances. Even those arguments, we note, require participants in public debate to practice a high level of restraint.

Next, we show that such restraint is rendered completely unrealistic given the environment in which our public conversation takes place. We argue that the machinery of public discourse, dominated by media and social media, is powerfully designed to manipulate, inflame and commodify our moral emotions, impelling us towards an unrestrainted contempt for each other.

Finally, we argue that such contempt is ultimately incompatible with and thoroughly corrosive of democracy itself.

Source: Uncivil Wars by Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens

Aly and Stephens describe contempt as being personal, judgmental, comparative, performative, an enduring disposition, a way of acting and feeling towards others. Breaking this down further, they identify three particular types of contempt:

  • Patronising Contempt. This is ‘knowing without being known, speaking without being addressed.’ An example is Malcolm Turnball’s dismissal the Uluru Statement from the Heart where he showed contempt for indigenous people with the way in which he rejected it.
  • Downward Contempt. This is contempt that focuses on hierarchical order. An example of this is slavery and the prioritising one group over another.
  • Moral Contempt. This is contempt that is not necessarily pre-existing, but arises out of a situation. It is the staple of tabloid journalism. It is also epitomised in the Robodebt’s contempt towards those receiving government payments and cancel culture.

Aly and Stephens point out that these three types are not mutually exclusive. For example, the response to Yassmin Abdel-Magied a few years ago mixes cancel culture with a downward contempt of gender and religion. In the end, these three types are brought together by there deep dismissal of others with no place for forgiveness. Oddly, contempt is often self-fulfilling.

For Aly and Stephens, ‘air’ is more than the oxygen we breathe, it is the space that occupies the space, it is where democracy exists. They use a quote from Luce Irigaray to capture the way in which our public life is beholden to the air that we breathe.

Air is the medium of our natural and spiritual life, of our relation to ourselves, to speaking, to the other – Page 67

Source: Way of Love by Luce Irigaray

Sadly, actions such as ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ in the open air of Twitter serve as moral contagion and help build outgroup animosity. Social media acts as a contempt machine and helps push us all towards the tabloidisation of everything.

Aly and Stephens use a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson discussing the way in which Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 made everyone culpable for slavery to capture the situation.

We do not breathe well. There is infamy in the air.

Source: The selected lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rather than tending to the air, media platforms suck everyone into a game where virality is the goal. Every speech act is reduced to a positive or negative response, this leads to a situation where contempt occurs before moral considerations of the other. This leaves us incomprehensible, unknown and unknowable to others.

Although there are always limits, the problem is that in the modern world this has become the first questions we ask. Little room is left for complexity and consensus. For Aly and Stephens, our focus should be on ‘thick democracy’, the reciprocal act of hope, interdependence and attention.

Democracy lives by and through such incidental acknowledgements of the moral reality of other persons.

Source: Uncivil Wars by Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens

Borrowing from Simone Weil, they talk about the importance of being attentive to the best of arguments of the others view, rather than a caricature. Weil talks about the symbolic language of lovers and the way this cultivates the relationship. With this, we need to think of democracy as a marriage that is continually cultivated.

We have become profoundly unreal to each other and therefore inattentiveness to the moral reality of our fellow citizens. This is perhaps the greatest irony. For all the talk of the attention economy, attention is precisely what our social media saturated age disallows. We are living in a time of contempt and the future of our democratic life depends on whether we can resist it.

Source: Uncivil Wars by Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens

With the movement away from platforms like Twitter and Facebook, it can be a useful time to consider what such spaces serve and what a constructive alternative maybe to borrow from Doug Belshaw. What might it mean to form what Eli Pariser has described as ‘online parks‘:

We need public spaces, built in the spirit of Walt Whitman, that allow us to gather, communicate, and share in something bigger than ourselves.

Source: To Mend a Broken Internet, Create Online Parks by Eli Pariser

All in all, Uncivil Wars is a thought provoking book, which demands attention and consideration.


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