Time Out Sydney's Editorial Director Alyx Gorman joins us this year as guest writer, to provide daily wrap-ups of the Festival's most stimulating discussions and exciting events.
Here, Alyx recaps, A Murderer in the Family, Borders of the Queer Body, Netflix and Chill, Writing Race, Elaine Welteroth on Teen Vogue, Chris Kraus: I Love Dick, Nadja Spiegelman: I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This.
Attending a Writers’ Festival can be a giddy experience. Especially with a stack of tickets as fat as mine. You’re pulled from expansionary idea to vindicating moment. From conversation to conversation – sometimes with luminaries so bright you wonder if it’s really them you see, or just their glow. You can go quickly from being lost in thought to finding yourself in it. As the ideas stack up on each other, it can make your head swim a little. Here are some moments that happened to me.
Hisham Matar creating an unbridgeable distance, then crossing it in just four sentences during A Murderer in the Family. “The idea of being able to know anyone is impossible to me. The people I know best, my family, are a complete mystery to me. There's a complex mysterious and rich difference between what someone says and what might be going on in their head. That's the space for literature.”
Jo Dyer, during the Opening Address, calling out Fairfax on the importance of preserving its arts coverage, “As a friend, partner, long-term reader please reconsider your arts coverage cuts. We like so many others can't conceive of a paper without consistent, expert and accomplished arts writing,” then, four days later Julia Turner of Slate perfectly articulated why a paper without an arts section is so inconceivable, during the live Culture Gabfest recording. “To me it feels like a work isn't complete until you read the criticism. It feels like a piece of art is a tossed ball, and you watch the critic catching it.”
Ivan Coyote and Peter Polites thoughts on the body dovetailing, when Ivan said: “I want to unpack the idea that trans-people hold the monopoly on hating our bodies. Society teaches us all to hate our bodies… Gay men… And every woman I’ve ever met.” Then Peter grounded the physical in the financial: “I think you have to look at the relationship between economics and bodies. The idea that you invest in your body. Perhaps someone on 'roids is like a venture capitalist. They do a high risk for a quick gain. We can’t talk about bodies… without discussing how the current zeitgeist of economics is influencing us. So instead of doing queer theory, maybe read the business section.”
Brodie Lancaster at Netflix and Chill eviscerating Gossip Girl with a deeply affectionate PowerPoint presentation. “[This show is about] an assortment of wealthy monsters being horrible to everyone around them.”
'The people I know best, my family, are a complete mystery to me.'
Paul Beatty asking Ellen van Neerven the most telling question of the session at Writing Race. While discussing the ethics of criticism, Ellen wondered: “There’s such a low standard for reviewing Indigenous works. You think even having a small review in the paper is enough. Do we set high standards [for reviews of Indigenous artists] by showing how it can be done properly?” while reflecting on how often she’s asked to critique works from other First Nations artists. “Do you ever get asked to review non-Indigenous work?” Paul asked. “Not often… we don’t very often get asked to comment on topics that are not political. We should be able to review anything. But for some reason we’re not.”
Elaine Welteroth realising that some of the highest praise for Teen Vogue’s turn towards the political was coming from a pretty bad place. “People were congratulating us as if we were pioneers and the first ever to do this. Certainly, it’s wonderful to have your work celebrated and our team deserves the credit that they are getting. But the larger existential crises we were looking at was 'Wow, look how grossly underestimated young girls are, and women in general, in this country and in this world.' Seeing politics in a women’s publication, or a teen publication, isn’t new. It’s just no-one’s thought to look before.” That’s why the best part of their current success “Is bigger than Teen Vogue. It’s to see people think differently about young women. What they’re capable of, thinking about and talking about.”
Nadja Spiegelman explaining how French identity politics are different. “There’s a way of being a victim in America, where moral superiority is given to suffering, that is really important. It allows for having a voice, it allows for creating change. That doesn’t exist in France … There’s lots of jokes (they’re racist). Not more racist than Americans, just more openly xenophobic in how they speak. The answer lies somewhere in between asking for redress and apology, and also claiming agency – seizing power by changing how you’re going to move through the world, so you don’t feel overwhelmed by the things that are out there.”
When Chris Kraus, in conversation with Krissy Kneen explained that she changed the names of her characters from I Love Dick in Torpor, because unlike I Love Dick, Torpor was not meant to be read as an anthropological case study. In this moment, I saw bulbs of red floating in front of my eyes like a lava lamp. I felt like I’d been spinning furiously in circles like a kid trying to make herself fall over. I realised if I stayed in my seat another second, I might throw up on the person in front of me. I lurched awkwardly and tripped on the stairs in the aisle of the Roslyn Packer Theatre, because I couldn’t see them. A minute later, with my head between my knees and a glass of water next to me outside the theatre, I started to feel better. Milan, the house services manager, was fanning me with a Festival program. Their first aid officer, a nursing student, asked me when I’d last had water. It was more than seven hours ago. And eaten? Half a sandwich in the Green Room before midday. Earlier that day I’d moderated a talk on wellness, addiction and self-care. Now I was fainting from dehydration on the Festival floor – “It’s a hell of a drug,” my nurse informed me. Attending a Writers’ Festival can be a giddying experience. Especially if you fail to eat or drink water all day. The good news is, if you faint in the theatre, the staff will know exactly what to do. Apparently, it happens all the time.
— Alyx Gorman, editorial director of Time Out Sydney
Alyx Gorman is the editorial director of Time Out Australia, and the fashion editor of the Saturday Paper. Alyx has worked for Elle Magazine, the Mamamia Women's Network, Fairfax Media and Oyster Magazine, and written for The Guardian, Meanjin and i-D.