Our thanks to our subscribers for supporting The Lifted Brow.
‘Toward a Taxonomy of the Plasticae: Meeting The Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group’, by Rhianna Boyle
In the murky backwaters of the internet, it’s possible to discover a gem. The Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group (HORG) is devoted to the scientific study of creatures known as occlupanids. If their physiology looks oddly familiar, it might be because you’re used to calling occlupanids by their common name – that is, if you bother to talk about them at all. Occlupanid derives from occlu, meaning close, and pan, meaning bread. These creatures are bread ties – the small plastic clips that keep bread bags closed.
The HORG site carefully describes the anatomy of each ‘species’ of bread tie, based on the shape of its plastic teeth (‘oral groove’ in the site’s terminology), and assigns each a Latin name and place in the evolutionary tree.
It’s hard to know whether this is science, art or a very elaborate gag. While the classification has been approached with the pedantic rigour of a serious scientist, surely the site’s claim that occlupanids “take nourishment from plastic sacs that surround the bagged product, not the product itself, as was previously thought” is dripping with irony.
Dialect really shouldn’t need to exist. The writers whose works are featured here represent contemporary Australia well: they are diverse, multilingual, and occasionally confronting. The publishing world, however, is generally not very representative of this diversity, so we have to produce multicultural anthologies like this one in an attempt to compensate. It would be better to make space for writers like these within mainstream publishing, particularly in the literary magazines where many writers are first published, but for now we have Dialect; an anthology that recognises that it can go where many publishers can’t, or won’t.
Dialect emerged from a partnership between Kat Muscat, former editor of Voiceworks, and Alia Gabres of the Footscray Community Arts Centre. Before having their work included in the anthology, the writers were given a year of creative writing workshops and editing sessions. This is an important acknowledgement that writers operating outside of the mainstream sometimes need more assistance to bring their work to a publishable level than those with better access to mentors and the arts sector, and—occasionally—better-developed English language skills.
No one forced me to enrol in drama class during fifth grade summer school, but I chose it because I liked the idea of being a performer. I imagined myself spotlit, showered in stray roses and applause.
But when I read the script and was instructed to write down my top three character choices, I abandoned my fantasy and wrote down the three disposable roles—the ones that had just one word. My line was part of a list of ingredients for a meal the lead characters were cooking. I took drama class all summer so I could be on stage for one night and say bread with an exclamation point.
My parents sat in the audience while my classmates did all the work and I stood there, ordinary. I wanted to be admired, but I refused to risk anything, so I watched the female lead glide around the stage wearing a wreath made of fake flowers. I observed her so intently that I nearly missed my line. Bread!
I remembered this school play when I downloaded Somebody, the half-app/half-human messaging service created by Miranda July. From the website:
When you send your friend a message through Somebody, it goes—not to your friend—but to the Somebody user nearest your friend. This person (likely a stranger) delivers the message verbally, acting as your stand-in.
I downloaded the app right away, created my profile, but I didn’t dare use it. Once again I’d completed my childhood routine: I’d signed up for more than I could handle. I liked the idea of approaching strangers, but not enough to actually do it.
Hysteria is a bit of an embarrassment for Western medicine. Once a catch-all diagnosis that was deployed with such vigorous frequency and authority that it was alleged to affect a quarter of all women, it vanished from medical vocabulary at the beginning of the twentieth century. Medicine advanced, feminism surged, and hysteria suddenly seemed like an anachronistic and implausible fabrication, and one that institutionalised misogyny. Used to justify social quarantine on the basis of gender, hysteria was a sickness of having more womanhood than even a woman’s body could contain: it was the pathologisation of femininity itself.
Sinking quickly and silently out of discourse, the vanishing act has made it a little harder to trace a line of continuity between medicalised hysteria and current stigma around female mental health – but it’s definitely there, according to Anthea LeBrocq, who has organised and curated the all-female exhibition I Didn’t Want Flowers, I Just Wanted You to Fuck Me.
“I’m of the belief that everyone will go through some sort of mental health problem at some point in their life,” she says. “Whether its anxiety, depression, anything like that, it’ll affect your life in some way.”
“It’s not that women are crazy. It’s that people in general are crazy. But there’s still that stigma attached to women, you’re still ‘hysterical’.”
J. Patrick Lewis calls poetry ‘a circus for the brain’. After watching Skye Gellmann’s ‘Snow’, a circus performance at the 2014 Melbourne Fringe Festival, I found that the only way I could respond was through poetry. While my intentions no longer matter once the reader’s eyes balance down these lines, the poem attempts to offer a sense of what it was like to witness Gellmann’s stunning acrobatic performance. Just as contortion bends and flexes the body into unconventional forms, this poem endeavours to offer an alternative version of the traditional prose review.
‘Snow is what it does.’ — Frederick Seidel
This is no ordinary mixtape, though: it’s been put together by Rainbow Chan, a Sydney-based singer/producer with a love for storytelling. Whether stitching together childhood dreams, rummaging through antique fairs or sampling odd sounds, Rainbow is constantly collecting bits and pieces for her music. An eclectic mix of vintage tones, sweet textural landscapes and layers of glitchy sounds, Rainbow Chan’s music is forward-thinking pop, embedded in the nostalgic imagination.
Hit play, sink back at your desk, on your couch, or whatever weird place you’re reading this, and let Rainbow’s mix wash over your tired Friday eardrums.
Get the app and start reading The Lifted Brow: Digital now.
In David Walsh’s memoir, A Bone of Fact (Picador, 2014), he tells a story about Kerry Packer playing at a huge stakes blackjack table in Las Vegas. A rich Texan playing one table over asks to join the game, but Packer refuses. The Texan says, “I can play as big as you. I’m worth a hundred million.” Packer, without taking his eyes off his cards, replies, “I’ll flip you for it.” This story is part of Australian punting folklore. Packer embodies the perverse beauty of the gambler: he is not constricted by risk, but thrives off it. He is the master of chance only because he succumbs to its complete meaninglessness. In A Bone of Fact, David Walsh—who made his fortune gambling and then spent it on MONA, an avant garde art museum at the end of the world—has a similar relationship to risk: he submits wholly to the power of its blind hand. He writes that if it weren’t for good fortune, his exhilarating and “successful” life might’ve been a complete disaster. Walsh insists that despite his wealth and fame he isn’t special or gifted, just absurdly lucky. If, in the game of life, heads wins, Walsh is yet to toss tails.
A Bone of Fact is consistent with the persona Walsh has cultivated since MONA’s opening in 2011 made him a figure of public interest. It is over the top, unconventional, unashamedly ego-driven, ironic, often a little inappropriate, and, like everything Walsh does, a big risk. A Bone of Fact reads like a personal manifesto as much as a memoir, meaning that Walsh is opening himself up to a type of direct and personal criticism he has never risked before. In an attempt to better understand this persona, when given the task of reviewing this memoir, I decided to embrace the attitude of the gambler, the spirit of Packer and Walsh.
Let me explain. There are decisions a reviewer has to make when writing about a book: Do I provide a straight account of the content? How honest am I about my feelings towards the book? How much should I insert myself into the review? But I’m not going to trouble myself with those decisions in this review: I’m going to submit it to the whims of chance. Next to me I have a twenty-cent coin. I’m going to use it as a guide for writing, ask it questions, and follow its answers blindly. I have one rule: heads = yes; tails = no.