These past few weeks my work has taken on a kind of literary bend. I've had the absolute privilege of helping 5 writers access Auckland Museum's documentary heritage collections as part of Auckland Writers Festival's collab with us entitled Writing the Past: A Museum Collaboration. Like, such a privilege: Ngahuia te Awekotuku, Hera Lindsay Bird, Anne Kennedy, Kelly Ana Morey, and Toby Morris have all done primary research on some aspect of our collection and will present their resulting takes on our archival past at the Writers Fest. And then earlier this week poet and English Professor at Auckland University, Michele Leggot, brought her class for a session with me and some of my favourite pieces from our collections. I got to wax lyrical about some of our amazing taonga and then have some awesome conversation with Michele and her switched on students about archives, their stories, histories, meanings, contradictions and complexities...
1. So yes, working with the Writers Fest collaborators has been amazing. And a little bit profound. During one moment in particular while standing with one of the writers looking at an object, they revealed that the object was intrinsically linked to and impacted their history and their family's history. I suddenly remembered why I, why we all, do what we do. Because of those threads that tie us so strongly to the past. I was reminded once again that history is not something that stops and starts when we want it to, but is very much alive, walking hand-in-hand with us.
2. I can't really talk about archives and literature without bringing up my brilliant brother's brilliant doctoral thesis "Documenting Barbarism: the violence of the archive in contemporary American fiction":
"Focusing on the representation of a range of troubling events in American history, including colonialism, genocide, slavery, sexual abuse, and political assassination, this project argues that there is, in fact, a fundamental connection between such scenes of violence and the turn to the archive as a trope for the representation of history. In these novels, the seemingly benign gesture of archivization—the collection, ordering, and recovery of traces of the past—is implicated in the more obvious material violence of the historical events contained within the archive."
It opens with a discussion of the impenetrability of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France as described in Sebald's novel Austerliz - not only imposing and intimidating but mind-bendingly, impossibly labyrinthine. Designed to keep you out.
A heavy topic to be sure, drawing on some equally heavy literature - Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West, Toni Morrison's Beloved and Don Delilo's White Noise to name a few, it nevertheless gives me endless joy that me and my brother's interests/careers have intersected in such a significant way. Infinitely smarter than me, I feel lucky I have such a brain in close proximity to learn from.
3. Back to the writers fest. I attended the opening event at Auckland Art Gallery and as well as shoveling in as much free sushi as possible also bore audible witness to the gasps of fellow attendees as Festival Director Anne O'Brian read the impressive (and giant) list of writers. There was particular excitement when the likes of Armando Iannucci, Ian Rankin, Susan Faludi were named among the international. I have to say I was equally impressed with the organisational effort that must have gone into this year's festival as much as the attendees. Truly epic. So far I'm booked into see Paul Beatty and Roxanne Gay, both of whom I'm v excited to see.
An aside: can someone please make Werner Herzog come one year? One of my life ambitions is to hear his voice in person. If you haven't listened to him musing on Where's Waldo (including highlighting its subtext of the collective nightmare of an impending disaster) you really, really must...
4. Did anyone else read Karen Tay's piece on Pantograph Punch, Shiny Red Apple: Food in Fiction? I found it an enticing read, presenting the complexities inherent in the use of food and cooking in literature from Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children to Patricia Grace's Chappy. As Tay discusses the use of food is complex - it can be used metaphorically to indicate class, status, morality etc. It can also be used as a window into other cultures and equally as a tool to stereotype and other.
It's also a beautiful read. Of the book Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, Tay writes:
"The book left me with a little hollow fist of hunger nestled in the pit of my stomach; a craving for the flavours of the meals described. While some of the meals were familiar, and others were utterly foreign, all were seductive. It struck me that this feeling of both emptiness and fulfillment, of the familiar and the exotic, is what makes food in fiction so fascinating and eternally appealing. Like a small child turning their face towards the mother, mouth open in anticipation of the spoon."
Happily, it also reminded me that I've always intended to read Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. Next on the agenda!
5. Also on the agenda is more non-fiction. My reading of non-fic is piecemeal to say the least. I felt like I might have turned a corner with The Great War for New Zealand but alas I still only turn to non-fic if it's essential reading (like O'Malley) or for work reasons. So if you're reading this and you have some stellar non-fic pleasure reading (ew) recommendations, holler at your girl pls and thank you!
And now, given it's literary roots, I'll send you into the weekend with a bit of the ever-wonderful Kate Bush...