Chad Parkhill

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Literary and Cultural Criticism

Lesbian for a Year, Heterosexual for Life

Brooke Hemphill’s Lesbian for a Year

Published by Spook, 2 October 2014. Original post. Detail, Cover, Brooke Hemphill, Lesbian for a Year (2014).

Brooke Hemphill’s debut book, a memoir titled Lesbian for a Year, raises some very interesting questions—just not the ones that Hemphill herself would like to raise. Rather than focusing on issues of sexual fluidity and the arbitrariness of sexual identity, much of the discussion about Lesbian for a Year has centred around the offensiveness of the title and the memoir’s general conceit, as well as raising questions about how the book ever managed to get published in its current form.

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Beyond the Valley’s Noble Savages

Published by Overland (blog), 19 August 2014. Original post. Promotional image from Beyond the Valley’s website.

Music festivals are, almost by definition, supposed to have their fingers on the cultural pulse. Thus it hardly augurs well that the Beyond the Valley festival—a new player in Australia’s already-crowded music festival scene, to take place on Phillip Island over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day—has chosen to promote itself through a series of videos that tick nearly every box of colonial appropriation from Native American cultural traditions. A debate about the use and misuse of war bonnets (traditionally worn only by male warriors of certain Plains Indian groups) has been raging in both North America and the United Kingdom since a Canadian electronic music festival, Bass Coast, advised attendees that war bonnets or anything resembling them would not be permitted onsite. For an Australian festival to launch a publicity campaign that places white Australians in war bonnets front and centre in this climate looks less like carelessness than a deliberate provocation.

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The Slaughter to Come

Reading and Watching The Counselor

Published by Killings, 14 November 2013. Original post. Detail from The Counselor (2013).

Early in Cormac McCarthy’s screenplay The Counselor, a diamond dealer reflects on an issue that directly relates to Ridley Scott’s film version of the same screenplay. “The crown and the pavilion may be well cut each in itself and yet stand alien to one another,” he says of a poorly-cut diamond the titular Counselor is inspecting. “Once the first facet is cut there can be no going back. What was meant to be a union remains forever untrue and we see a troubling truth that the forms of our undertakings are complete at their beginnings. For good or ill.” Those who have seen the film may be surprised by these lines: if they were ever uttered, they ended up on the cutting-room floor, perhaps because they invite an unkind comparison between the misshapen diamond and Scott’s film. Like the diamond, both the script and the production (led by some of Hollywood’s most valuable A-listers) is well-cut, but each stands alien to the other.

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The Problem With a Crowdfunded Climate Council

Published by Junkee, 2 October 2013. Original post. Tim Flannery by Climate Commission (Creative Commons).

If you have a Facebook or Twitter account and use them to engage with any vaguely left-leaning Australians, you’ll know all about the Climate Council, the crowdfunded body set up to replace the Australian Government’s Climate Commission, itself recently axed as one of the incoming Abbott government’s first items of business. My own feeds have been lighting up with new stories about the Climate Council—first when Professor Tim Flannery announced its existence last Monday night, and shortly after that with requests for donations. And boy, have those donations been pouring in—this afternoon, the Climate Council will announce that $969,000 has been raised, from over 20,000 donors. This is a crowdfunding success that looks set to easily eclipse Amanda Palmer’s blockbuster $1.2 million album, and it’s for an incredibly important (literally life and death) cause.

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What I’m Reading

Published by Meanjin (blog), 12 August 2013. Original post. Detail from The Grand Canal at the Salute Church by Canaletto (1730).

I’ve often envied the relationships that people who don’t work as writers or editors have with books. They seem to read more of them, or at least read them more completely: start to finish, without the distraction of another, competing book that has to be read for research or that long-form article everyone’s been tweeting about—without the hopelessly muddled association of pleasure with duty that characterises my own reading life. Every book you read in this state is an opportunity to dwell on the books you should be reading instead, or should have read long before. To further complicate matters, the reading I do in my professional life is about leisure: specifically, travel. My day job is at Lonely Planet, where I am part of a team of content digitisers whose remit is, broadly, to take the content in Lonely Planet’s well-known series of guidebooks, break it down into its smallest logical units, and organise that content by location and theme. This work itself involves a good deal of reading, since it’s impossible to know how and where to place the content without understanding its context.

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“Worst. Review. Ever.”

On the Pillorying of Jessica Andrews

Published by Killings, 12 February 2013. Original post. My Bloody Valentine by Greg Dunlap (Creative Commons).

Every writer writes because they want their work to be read—and in the brave new world of digital publishing, this desire takes the specific form of wanting to ‘go viral’. Virality can seem so arbitrary, so why shouldn’t a young writer pin their hopes on a piece of theirs hitting the right cultural nerve at the right time, and dream of watching the hits and Twitter mentions roll in?

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“Largely Superseded by Damp”

Mark Haskell Smith’s Heart of Dankness

Published by Lonely Planet (blog), 17 December 2012. Original post. Amsterdam coffee shop by Arthur Caranta (Creative Commons).

Heart of Dankness is a travelogue only by necessity; if Mark Haskell Smith had his way, he wouldn’t need to leave his home state of California to experience the specialised highs promised by Amsterdam’s competitive Cannabis Cup. Nor would he want you to have to leave your home town (or even your couch) for a similar experience. Since marijuana possession remains illegal throughout most of the world, however, Haskell Smith needs to travel to get his toke on. This is just as well, because his quixotic search for ‘dankness’ becomes a fascinating travelogue populated by a large cast of larger-than-life eccentrics united by their love of good dope.

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A Humane Approach to Seeing Things

Oliver Sacks’s Hallucinations

Published by The Austalian, 1 December 2012. Original article. Oliver Sacks by Steve Jurvetson (Creative Commons).

It’s not hard to see why US-based British doctor and writer Oliver Sacks has become, for many people, the chief ambassador for neurology. His books render this forbiddingly dry subject accessible by cutting to the core of what neurology means for a lay audience.

Rather than focusing on structures such as the hippocampus or the effects of chemicals such as dopamine, he instead illustrates their functions through case studies of patients with neurological disorders.

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Can’t Do

The Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards, 1999–2012

Published by Meanjin (blog), 4 April 2012. Original post. Campbell Newman by Dale Napier (Creative Commons).

They don’t call him ‘Can-Do’ Newman without reason. Yesterday afternoon, a mere ten days after his landslide win in the recent state election, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman announced that his department would scrap the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. The program, which had run for thirteen years from 1999 to 2011, would be discontinued in order to save $244,475 and sundry operational costs. The swiftness and severity of the move was stunning, but the substance of the decision is by no means surprising. Newman and the Liberal National Party ran on a platform of fiscal prudence, eliminating government waste, and easing cost-of-living pressures on ‘ordinary Queenslanders’. His campaign quite explicitly focused on the concerns of middle-class, white, heterosexual Queenslanders over and above ‘special interest groups’. In such a climate, swingeing cuts to arts programs are to be expected. But nobody expected Newman to make such a dramatic gesture as entirely eliminating one of Queensland’s highest-profile arts programs. In so doing, Queensland has now become the only Australian state without a Premier’s Literary Award or its equivalent.

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