Category Archives: You Can’t Review That

You Can’t Review That: Foreword

This article series, written by Jamie, appeared in Woroni in the second half of 2011.

I am quite proud of some of the content here, especially the review of a dream I had and, the culmination of my silly self-referential humour, the review of itself. It did also attract some praise and I had more positive feedback for this series than anything I’ve ever done. Interestingly, Myles Barlow had done his Review program the year before though I hadn’t heard of it. In fact I still haven’t seen it but I understand it’s very good and it sounds like something I would love/do.

— Jamie.

The Bible review attracted a few complaints, including one memorable effort from someone who said it was terrible, although they didn’t read beyond the first line. That’s not so bad as the first line was definitely the best.

Note the articles should be read top down, the original release dates of the articles have all been reversed so they appear in the correct order. 

You Can’t Review That: The 21st Century So Far

To be fair, this is a mixed bag. First off the good stuff: telecommunications.The Internet threatened to be a receptacle for the sum of human knowledge, but sanity quickly prevailed and it became a delivery vehicle for a diverse, pluralistic pornography and a collection of forums which finally allowed strangers to call each other “faggot” as much as they had always wanted to.

This century has also been a zenith for cultural enrichment. The preeminent artistic modes — Hollywood and pop music — finally realised that creating new content was a foolish endeavour and have used the 21st century to replay all pop-culture from the last two decades of the 20th century, as some kind of clever homage to our immediate past. This has been fantastic.

But there has also been some unwanted repetition, like the rehashing of tired old motifs like the environmental movement and the suggestion that we should alleviate poverty in Africa. Fortunately, these have been overshadowed by more vital concerns over what ratio of toning to strengthening exercises one should do while at the gym.

And now the bad. Where is the generational challenge of our century? The forging of a meaning through a mass bloodletting? The Lost Generation had the glory of the War to End All Wars, which (excepting its titular claim) was largely successful; and the Greatest Generation had the ecstasy of the death camps. Hopefully swine flu or some kind of savage resource war will allow us the catharsis of a mass death toll from which we will emerge morally enriched.

Three stars.

This article originally appeared in Woroni in 2011.

You Can’t Review That: Monogamy

Unlike the additional sex partners you fantasise about, this rare practice is actually more attractive than it appears. It boasts clearly superior protection from STIs and is also advantageous from budgetary and logistical viewpoints.

You can use monogamy as a way to organise your weekly schedule to include sex, without the need for any of the preparatory overtures of meeting, seduction and dating. You can also forget all that worrying about awkwardness when two of the people you’re procuring animal affirmation from (in a sexual relationship with) bump into you at the same time. You’ll also save on phone bills, coffee or meal expenses and won’t have to change your sheets as often.

There are of course downsides. Monogamy can result in a frustration of psychosexual urges, as you find yourself unable to seize and deflower any young thing carrying the imprimatur of sexual conquest. Commentators in earlier decades suggested this could be avoided by making sure your significant other represents your own parent of the opposite gender. Cold comfort for same-sex couples, who have nonetheless recently realised the advantages of monogamy and are converting to it in droves.

More importantly, though, monogamy allows you to control your partner’s libidinous urges, meaning you avoid feelings of jealousy towards their lubricity which somewhat vitiates the stifling of your own nymphomania, or satyriasis, as the case may be.

The most popular alternative to monogamy remains marriage, which is a method of avoiding monogamy from within the comfort of a heterosexual economic union. Monogamy has it beat for entry costs and success rates, but it can’t really compete in terms of social status

Slightly less cynical than voluntary celibacy, three stars.

This article originally appeared in Woroni in 2011.

You Can’t Review That: The Bible

If you enjoy incest, then you’ll love the early passages in this work. They describe a group of people who continually resort to the practice when they make the mistake of not having female children, or when the women they do have idiotically turn around to look at burning cities and get themselves transmogrified into pillars of salt.

Overlong and open to interpretation, this work is wildly popular, despite some stylistic quirks. We are told that the book is the word of “God”, the author, who employs multiple narrators to tell the story, but gets into a bizarre Charlie Kaufman-esque situation in which he writes himself in to his own narrative. The Bible seems to be one of those postmodern novels that was popular in the 1970s, but this meta-fictional approach gets particularly tiresome when a new character, Jesus, is introduced and is alternately referred to as the son of God, the Son of Man, a man and God himself.

The climax is a bizarre sequence wherein this schizoid but hitherto kindly character judges the rest of the characters (and indeed everyone) as some kind of proxy for the author. Jesus’s earlier, touching act of self-sacrifice and his message of love, seem somewhat incongruous with the appalling bloodbath that follows the judgement.

Contra the “love-thy-enemy” message he propagated earlier, Jesus unveils the fact that he actually wants to kill and torture everyone who has not sworn allegiance to him. The moral dodginess of doing this to people who have never even heard of him, let alone embraced him, is thankfully overshadowed by the enthralling symbolism and rich imagery of beasts, trumpets, fire, gold, horsemen, falling stars and brimstone which accompany the inauguration of the book’s final conceit: the New Jerusalem, whatever that is.

The sex scene, Song of Songs, was actually very good and the bit on prohibitions, Leviticus, was hilarious; in fact, overall it’s well written and profound, but thematically inconsistent. More concise than the Mahabharata, three stars.

This article originally appeared in Woroni in 2011.

You Can’t Review That: Last Night’s Dream

No doubt open to multiple interpretations, the whole production was enthralling during the show itself but although the moral of this story seemed profound immediately after it finished, the effect wore off through the day and was already waning as I recounted it to my housemate over breakfast.

The dream opened with the fairly hackneyed setting of a classroom in my high school, the director taking the bold choice to have the protagonist naked in this scene. From there the scene transitions were fluid and the narrative shifted seamlessly from one location and set of cast members to another.

The set-designer and artistic director deserve credit for producing a fairly faithful reconstruction of the house I grew up in, although I don’t recall my home having one room off the kitchen that becomes the bedroom of my ex-girlfriend, only after I follow the boyhood version of my now adult next-door neighbour inside.

Was this surrealist imagery a comment on the baseless nature of our morality, following a century of war and misguided political ideology? or was it a consequence of the the reduced information flow between my hippocampus and neocortex, resulting in illogical linkages between disparate memories?

The horrifying vignette in which my teeth fell out, although a bit of a cliche, was genuinely disturbing and the penultimate scene was an hilarious farce wherein the car I tried to use wouldn’t start and I decided instead to run jelly-legged to the HSC exam I was missing.

The show ended with a superb, almost Brechtian device, incorporating a song from my clock-radio alarm into the narrative of the dream, allowing me some tantalising moments of lucidity before waking up.

Most of the characters, however, were inconsistent or just facile; they were either morphing avatars representing my own unresolved family issues or paper-thin, coquettish versions of women I know and am now more attracted to as a result.

Other dreams have been far more successful. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s opium dream produced the virtuosic poem, “Kubla Khan”; Salvadore Dali’s yielded a whole new art movement; Jung’s dreams contained a veritable tarot deck of archetypal figures of cosmic significance; and Daniel’s cycle of prophetic dreams included God as a main character and foretold the apocalypse. In comparison, my exiguous narrative of minutiae from my daily life and petty, unresolved sexual desires seems somewhat banal.

More successful than Martin Luther King Jr’s dream, three stars.

This article originally appeared in Woroni in 2011.

You Can’t Review That: University

University is a follow-up to High School, which was an angst-ridden compilation album with a mix of nihilistic punk songs, naive love ballads and a lot of weird spoken word crap about finding one’s identity. University is a much better effort and the album opens with “O-Week”, a tune about making mistakes and the freaks you macked on with, which pops up again and again as a clever leitmotif throughout the album.

Track two continues the fun with “Sense of Possibilities”, which, although short, does provide a nice lead-in to “Readjusting Future Plans”; that song is all about dropping courses, changing degrees, disappointing your parents and realising that you won’t ever effect any meaningful change in the world.

“Youth Allowance” is a pretty effective blues number all about that level of student poverty that means you’re richer than most humans who have ever lived, but are still depressed because youl can’t afford a Mimco bag or to drink anything other than goon. The experimental track “Drug Use” is intense but overall you probably regret listening to it, while track seven (“Class”) and eight (“Study”) are in that dead part of the album you normally skip.

The single from the album is the feelgood pop hit, “Party”, which will have you dancing, but you’ll be right back down again when it transitions into the next track, “Hangover” and you’ll go even lower with “Loss of Self-Esteem Upon Remembering How You Debased Yourself Last Night” which is a 12 minute dirge you think is never going to end.

The worst song, however, is the nausea inducing noise track called “Student Politics”, which consisted mainly of whiny, irrelevant vocals but which the singers clearly thought were important: they’re not.

One of the most effective tracks is a trance effort called “Feelings of Superiority Over Uneducated People and an Ever Growing Sense of Elitism” which you only really appreciate once the album is over, but is perhaps the most satisfying part of this work.

The album closes with “Graduation” an over-sentimental power ballad you wish would wrap up earlier. There is a hidden track tacked on the end called “Qualifications” but it doesn’t really seem to be relevant to the rest of the album.

Better than going straight into Full-Time Employment (a turgid double-album), three stars.

This article originally appeared in Woroni in 2011.

You Can’t Review That: This Review

Beginning with this sentence, the titular piece fails to engage on any level, unless you’re a particular fan of self-reference and recursion. The piece is typographically conventional, with only mild deViaTions from form or convention which (just like this parenthetical comment) arguably contribute little to its overall thrust.

The second paragraph opens with what initially seems to be the first gag all over again — and indeed this passage proves it to be the case. It does, however, act as a pretty good model for correct punctuation; this sentence and the last includes the following marks: a colon, a few legitimate commas, a semicolon, an em-dash and an unnecessary hyphen.

The review originally intended a much larger scope. It was set-up as a review to review all reviews (and only those reviews) that do not review themselves. Unfortunately, this obviously leads to something approaching Russell’s paradox, as it then becomes unclear as to whether this review violates the very premise it operates under, right in the middle of the review, merely by either following or not following that selfsame premise. If it did review itself it would not fit into that category, yet if it didn’t it would need to be put back into it. Ultimately, this piece fails to resolve this rather donnish piece of intellectual frippery, but does waste one hundred and eighteen words discussing it.

The closing simile makes about as much sense as a simile comparing something to itself, and the awkward rhetorical question following it seems redundant. Does it not? Most of the words used here are short, sharp and one beat long — they don’t seem to have much flair, much like this last word, which is just made up of two es and a tee.

Saved by its interest to fans of Douglas Hofstadter, it gets however many stars it says it does and is also notable for its meta-structure of having a beginning, middle and an end marked by the words beginning, middle and end.

This article originally appeared in Woroni in 2011.

You Can’t Review That: Life

The novel opens with a prologue called “Conception” wherein two inebriated characters have desultory sex following a blackout. Then we jump forward to a lurid set-piece involving blood, screaming and pain in which the main character, You, enters the world in one of the most grotesque literary introductions to a character since Snowden lay dying in the back.

The book has an interesting structure, with each day (a sentence) running fluidly, sometimes imperceptibly into the next; each week (a paragraph) containing at most one new idea; adding up to the 75 years (chapters) that contain the whole narrative. This was a bit long. 75 chapters is sort of a bit nineteenth century, somewhat Dickensian — and in fact Life is a bit Dickensian, with its eccentric minor characters, moral weightiness and throngs of poor people.

The early chapters get bogged down in the bodily functions of the idiotic lead, who sees the world like a character from a Faulkner novel. Chapters 5–12 are harder to recall, but made for pleasant reading, despite a barely perceptible, yet haunting feeling of dread. The tragi-comic sequence covering chapters 13–18 ranges from poignant to just uncomfortable to read, as You, surrounded by gawky and self-conscious peers, somehow manage to standout as even gawkier and more self-conscious.

Chapters 18–30 promised to be the most interesting but while the writing hinted at some revelatory insight, what we actually got was some pretty mediocre material about You trying to find themselves in university, Europe and hobby cooking — in that order. After a string of exploitative casual sexual trysts, You settle down with a demographically appropriate partner who doesn’t piss Your parents off too much and who has the same views on how frequently one should clean the fridge out. Then You propagate some side characters and the next ten chapters fly through a staccato sequence of barely conscious vignettes involving changing nappies, taking kids to soccer training and the occasional promotion at the inconsequential bureaucracy You settled for working at.

The middle passages were pretty dull, lacking the vibrancy and anticipation of the earlier chapters. They seemed mainly to be concerned with the drinking of wine, the renovating of bathrooms and the curating of superannuation schemes. The final section winds down and devolves into a repetitive, bucolic account of retirement in Somewhere Bay and makes for lazy holiday reading, until the agonising final few chapters which are poignant in their melancholy.The story ends with a whimper and while some people were hoping for an epilogue — there was none.

Some have called Life a sub-Joycean bildungsroman and it’s true that there wasn’t as much sex as one might hope for and there are long passages that simply devolve into maudlin self-reflection from the neurotic protagonist. But there are plenty of laughs all the way through and You, although flawed, is lovable. To anyone looking for an extended read I’d recommend Proust, of course, but Life  always seems to get in the way whenever you try to read something really epic.

Better than non-existence, three stars.

This article originally appeared in Woroni in 2011.