Edition 83

Past Perfect

  • Published 6th February, 2024
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-92-4
  • Extent: 203pp
  • Paerback, ePub, PDF, Kindle compatible

The past, famously, is a foreign country – but in the twenty-first century, it’s one in which we increasingly seek solace. What fuels this love affair with recycling our history? What periods do we choose to romanticise, and how do our rose-tinted glasses occlude reality? Is all this nostalgia signifying – as the late Mark Fisher opined – the disappearance of the future? 

In this edition, we explore the connection between loneliness, nostalgia and Big Tech and the ways nostalgia has been weaponised for political gain. 

We revisit the heyday of advertising in the ’90s and investigate two long-standing editorial myths: have editors got worse? Do they infringe too much on the work of authors? 

We talk with Melissa Lukashenko about the important role of historical fiction in recovering First Nations knowledges, experiences and stories, and learn from Witi Ihimaera about the ingenuity, mischief and gift for reinvention at the heart of Indigenous storytelling. 

Griffith Review 83: Past Perfect surveys our need to idealise, sensationalise and glamorise – and asks what the circular nature of our obsessions says about our present cultural moment. 

In this Edition

Nostalgia on demand

The observed correlation between the Covid pandemic and what we might call the nostalgia boom is in one respect no mystery. The Covid years were a time of stress, and people responded to that stress with behaviours that immersed them in broadly pleasant feelings. But Covid didn’t occur in a vacuum, and the stresses associated with it were not reducible to the fear of getting sick. Indeed, for many, the stress of Covid derived not from the virus itself but from the lockdowns aimed at arresting its spread.

James and the Giant BLEEP

Common sense alone tells us that what we’re capable of thinking and what we’re capable of saying are not the same thing. When we struggle to find the right words, when a word lingers on the tip of our tongue, when words just won’t do something justice, we understand intuitively that thinking takes place independently of expression. It’s in this way that supposedly untranslatable words, for which our language has no exact or close synonym, are often so deeply pleasurable: not because those words reveal something about a worldview that’s unfamiliar or foreign to us but precisely the opposite.

The fall of the madmen

Back in 1995, change, as well as cigarette smoke, was in the air. Smoking was still permitted in hotels in those days. Even in old weatherboard fire hazards. But it wasn’t mist, passive smoke or being trapped inside that so disturbed the conference. In the first time in the eighteen-year history of the Caxtons, there was a sizeable number of female delegates. Nowhere near 50 per cent, you understand, but enough to make their presence felt. They weren’t the usual overworked event organisers or the few battle-scarred older female creatives who’d learnt to match quips, drinks and fags with the blokes. They were a new crowd of ambitious younger women who had persuaded their creative directors to cough up the sizeable registration fee and invest in their career. Their presence so unsettled the blokes that there was a running ‘joke’ about lesbians for the duration of the event. I was still a copywriter in those days, and one of those female delegates. I spent the weekend rolling my eyes so hard I thought they’d work loose in their sockets. Even so, I had no idea that I was witnessing the beginning of the end. The men weren’t wrong to be rattled. That influx of female delegates was the most obvious indicator of the tsunami of change about to overwhelm the cosy world of advertising and the world in general.

Which way, Western artist?

Shadow for Zavros is cobwebby, a necessary concession to realism, avoided wherever possible. It manifests in surgical lines differentiating the contours of form from the seething morass of nature. Though Zavros indebts the modern Narcissus depicted in Bad Dad to Caravaggio, he has no affinity for the old master’s tenebrism; Apollonian form must triumph over Dionysian murk, lest all the fine things be swallowed. Still, the objectifying amoralist cannot help but be contaminated by the vision of his daughter as Leda, raped by swan-Zeus; his corruption spills across the canvas, an inky oil slick.

Anticipating enchantment

When an editor works on a book, they balance reader expectations with what they interpret the author’s intentions to be and use their experience to make suggestions. This might mean changing some of the language to ensure the work is comprehensible for general readers, or asking for more detail where a setting has been hastily described. An editor will always be anticipating the market, and their extensive reading of contemporary works makes them well-placed not only to understand the social and political conditions of the day but also trends in publishing and marketing. 

From anchor to weapon

In 1930s Germany, the slogan ‘blood and soil’ was most prominently promulgated by the Reich Ministry of Food and Agriculture, which positioned itself not merely as an administrator but a kind of advocate-guardian of the soil and its workers. In 1930, Adolf Hitler recruited Richard Walther Darré, then a leading blood and soil theorist, to the Nazi Party. On seizing power in 1933, Hitler appointed Darré Reichsminister of Agriculture, a role he occupied until 1942. Recently, for reasons that are unclear but politically alarming, Darré’s works on blood and soil have been translated and republished in English to some fanfare.

Farming futures

The tempo of seasonal food production gives Mildura its seductive groove. The race is on to get food to market when prices are high and before it wilts and rots. But this race is only incidentally about food and mainly about finance. When markets fail or supply chains are disrupted, harvests are bitter. Watermelons, zucchinis and lettuces are ploughed back into the ground. Grapes are left hanging on vines, sitting in coolrooms and rotting in shipping containers grounded at ports.

The ship, the students, the chief and the children

The power of the fossil-fuel order depends on foreclosing any kind of political and institutional decisions that would see societies break free from the malignant clamp of coal, oil and gas corporations. This power also depends on eliding alternative ways of seeing. In one sense, the whole of the political struggle against climate change can be understood as an effort to make corporate and political decision-makers see, such that they are required to act.

Escaping the frame

All my work as a writer and activist over the last fifty years has comprised various attempts at what I call ‘escaping the frame of European colonisation, European story and European ways of telling story’. … Latterly I have reframed myself as an international Indigenous writer, walking the talk as well as writing it, this year going to French Polynesia and Australia, and soon to Sweden, Finland and Germany. I will paddle my waka to Canada and the US to meet up with First Nations, Inuit and Coastal Salish artisans to share our stories as Indigenous peoples at risk in a world where we are politically, economically and culturally disempowered.

Apocalypse, then?

Writing took almost everything from me. Most afternoons, I’d arrive home from teaching classrooms of uninterested students, have a little Henry time, defrost a ready-to-eat supermarket meal, open a bottle of shiraz and write until midnight. Most weekends, I’d start writing once the hangover wore off, break for lunch, and then write again until dinner. It wasn’t just punishing on my physical health, it ruined my relationships, most recently with Greg, who said I’d die miserable and alone if I maintained my grim routine. And for what? The occasional acceptance from an obscure journal read by twelve other short-story writers?

Featured Contributors

Stay up to date with the latest, news, articles and special offers from Griffith Review.