Tag Archives: surveillance

Books given, books read

Gifts: The Wind City, by Summer Wigmore; Tropic of Skorpeo by Michael Morrisey; Unspakable Secrets of the Aro Valley by Danyl McLauclan; The Factory World by Joe Ryan; I'm Working on a Building by Pip Adam' Hand Me Down World, by Lloyd Jones2013 was my Christmas of Literary Giving. All my family got great NZ books, as pictured, plus The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion‎ (a thoughtful choice, which my mother promptly vetoed by exchanging it for Amy Tan – sigh.)  Of the seven, I’d only read Tropic of Skorpeo and The Factory World, so I was giving away treasures I actually want to read myself: an inverted narrative about the construction of the world’s tallest building on the west coast of the South Island; Wellington’s Aro Valley has a hotbed of adventure, dark magic and intrigue – maybe with The Wind City‘s Maori gods romping around in the capital at the same time? Definitely no lack of entertaining ideas.

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Of the books I have read recently, I enjoyed Hamish Clayton’s Wulf, historical fiction fusing Te Rauparaha with the Beowulf epic. Sometimes I take just one or two things away from a novel, and in this case it was the evocative emphasis on a New Zealand that was all “black and green”, without the imported autumnal colours. Living in Dairyland, I was really impressed by that simple point, and kinda yearn to be in that long-gone place. Makes me appreciate my time in what remains of our bush even more.

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Kafka’s The Trial. Freedom of information advocate Aaron Swartz was facing the full weight of the US anti cyber “crime” agenda – years of stress, maybe years of jail, millions in punitive fines – after he made academic texts held by MIT available online. Swartz read The Trial in 2011, shortly after his arrest, and according to his father he called it “deep and magnificent” “I’d not really read much Kafka before and had grown up led to believe that it was a paranoid and hyperbolic work,” instead, he’d found it “precisely accurate—every single detail perfectly mirrored my own experience. This isn’t fiction, but documentary.”

Having now read The Trial, it is hard to argue – it resonates with my experiences with Inland Revenue, even challenging a parking ticket, any bureaucratic power. Has anyone not hit their head against a govt department wall? And now they are gathering all our information so they think they have even more god-like powers to judge guilt before innocence, and for anyone hoping to change the world this is chilling to the core.
Aaron Swartz was, of course, driven to suicide last year. No official of any sort will be held responsible for the witch hunt. He was 26.

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The most challenging and fascinating, and impressive, novel I’ve read lately is Sleight by Kirsten Kaschock. As a writer, you are attracted to reading that resonates with your own writing. I enjoy texts that ask the reader to make their own connections, and our understandings of the characters, the story, and “sleight” begin as disparate then coalesce, in the same way the sleight troupe’s practise comes together and arrives as a singular definitive event. In this way, the subject mirrors the novel’s structure, which is always effective, when achieved.

The multi-dimensional, abstract, almost impossible performance art-dance Kaschock created in sleight also resonated with the abstract-impossible aspects of The Sovereign Hand: those elements that are often decribed as “unfilmable”, where concrete description and detail surrender to an impression that eludes reality, and is all the more potent for it. The slake moth of Perdido Street Station and the perpetual train of Iron Council come to mind; the affect of scent in Süskind’s Perfume; In The Sovereign Hand, it’s the diablerie, in particular. All evidence that sometimes you can not just call a spade a spade, that you need richer language to unchain the reader from unthinking signifiers and permit them to draw their own ring around whatever is signified in their mind. That’s what speculative fiction, in whatever genre, does best.

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Next post: Joe Sacco’s Palestine, The Luminaries, and maybe a bit more about my book.

Timely, and to the point.

It’s one of the ironies of the blogosphere that a lag between posts makes a blog owner look lazy and idle (“What, you’re not taking your dog for a walk? Again?“), when the truth can be entirely the reverse.

For anyone politically engaged, critically aware, or in any way oriented to the world around them by means other than the television, there has been some interesting shit going down, in NZ and abroad, and it has all been finding ground inside me, heart and mind.

So all the reading I’ve been doing over the internet about the NSA and America’s response, into the local GCSB Bill and the spying actions of the Prime Minister’s office, all the stories veering from authoritarianism to literary criticism that I pick off reliable Friends feeds – y’know, all that stuff that no one has had the incredible wisdom to actually pay me to do – that’s research. And that all intertwines with my increasingly grim reading of Listener articles (no, I do not pay for them – but it pays to know what is being read); and the books I have finished, such as Cypherpunks; and with the local culture – skirmish over the fluoridation of drinking water; and my real-life wrestling with the Inland Revenue Department and city council, and whatever, and whatever – and yes, that all qualifies as incredibly useful and as research, so long as the ideas that flow from these interconnections are recorded, filed and indexed in accurate and timely fashion. Which, you know, never actually happens.

Nevertheless! They are held in my head and will hang there, these future blog posts, fictions and miscellanea, like so many orphaned limbs until I get around to some assembling, or at least give them the dignity of text, even if it is in OneNote, which tends to be my perpetual purgatory of partially-constructed thoughts.

The upshot of which is I do intend to write a post on the implications of our growing surveillance society for the bureaucratic authoritarianism (way to link Assange to a $12 parking infringement), among a host of others; but barring the unlikelihood of someone emailing me to beg for a blog post, I thought I might whip something together for the Sunday Star Times non-fiction essay, the required theme being “family”, which I think has the potential to focus a lot of the things I’m interested – politics, culture, the hypocrisies in our public morality. Whether it catches the judge’s eye or not, I’ll post it here in November.

At the same time, I’ve got line edits from Stephen at Steam Press for Act 2 of The Sovereign Hand, plus the aforementioned purgatory to renovate. So if it seems still around here, assume that’s where I’ll be.