By Deb A.
There is something slightly different about the coverage of the 2019 winner of one of Australia's most prestigious literary prizes; it is as though there are too many angles to address at once. The Victorian Prize for Literature honours the best in Australian writing, but the winning book was not written by an Australian citizen or permanent resident. It did not take shape in a traditional way: It was neither scribbled into a notebook nor typed into a laptop. No; the winning author, Behrouz Boochani, is a Kurdish-Iranian refugee living in detention on Manus Island. He wrote his non-fiction book, No Friend But the Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison, in Farsi and primarily on WhatsApp, sending his work message by message directly to his translator to ensure it would not be destroyed.
The Wheeler Centre, which organises the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, called No Friend But the Mountains "a voice of witness, an act of survival, a first-hand account, a cry of resistance, a vivid portrait through five years of incarceration and exile," It made an exception to its rules on the recommendation of its judges so that Mr. Boochani could enter the competition, noting that the story of asylum seekers on Manus Island is an Australian story and therefore including No Friend But the Mountains for consideration was in the spirit of the awards' intention. The Australian government did not make an exception to its rules, however; Mr. Boochani was not allowed to accept his prize in person in Melbourne. Instead, his translator, Omid Tofighian was there in person, watching the author deliver his speech via video link.
"This award is a victory," Mr. Boochani told the audience. "A victory for human beings, for human dignity, A victory against a system that has never recognised us as human beings. It is a victory against a system that has reduced us to numbers."
Mr. Boochani is a journalist who fled Iran after several of his colleagues were imprisoned. He has chronicled life in detainment for The Guardian and filmed and codirected a documentary, Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time, on his phone. The centre where he was originally detained was closed in 2017; since then, he has lived in facilities that Amnesty International described as "moving refugees and asylum seekers from one hellish situation to another." Upon receiving the Victorian Prize for Literature, he told The Guardian that his "main aim has always been for the people in Australia and around the world to understand deeply how this system has tortured innocent people on Manus and Nauru in a systematic way for almost six years."
Follow Behrouz Boochani on Twitter: @BehrouzBoochani
By Deb A.
What did you do last Thursday? In 2005 UNESCO designated the third Thursday of November World Philosophy Day. This year, the Institute of Art and Ideas celebrated with a list of 70 philosophy books everyone should read. With its own caveat that it is "by no means exhaustive" and that some key titles and thinkers are missing, it is nonetheless a decent overview that refuses to linger around old white males for too long; categories include ancient Indian philosophy, Japanese philosophy, Islamic philosophy, feminism, and African philosophy alongside the usual line-up of Greeks, Romans, Enlightenment thinkers and phenomenologists. The full list is here, but we've got some of the highlights for you below.
Ancient Indian philosophy: The Upanishads (8th to 1st century BCE) are a collection of over 200 religious and philosophical texts. Each Upanishad stands alone but taken together, they offer both a univocal account of the importance of religious knowledge and conflicting messages about reality and the individual self.
Japanese philosophy: The ideas of Nishida Kitarō were crucial to the development of Japanese philosophy in the twentieth century. An Inquiry Into the Good (1911) marks the start of his thinking around the concept of "pure experience," a concept he expresses through Zen Buddhism.
Islamic philosophy: Averroes, or Ibn Rushd, argued from an Islamic legal perspective in The Decisive Treatise (1178) that philosophy is not in conflict with Islam; he claimed that not only was it allowed, it was actually mandated in the Qur'an.
Feminism: You've heard of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex (1949) and Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929), but what about Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), where she takes on a report presented to the French government that suggested that women were not suited for formal education? Wollstonecraft argued that women are indeed rational—they appear otherwise specifically because they have been denied a proper education.
African philosophy: Kenyan philosopher Henry Odera Oruka began his Sage Philosophy Project in the 1970s to document the thinking of wise men and women in communities across Africa. Sage Philosophy: Indigenous Thinkers and Modern Debate on African Philosophy (1990) countered the Eurocentric bias against viewing traditional African sages as philosophers.
Postcolonialism: While her professor and lover Martin Heidegger did not make the IAI's list (perhaps due to readability issues, or his involvement with Nazism), Hannah Arendt did, with The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Her analysis of Nazism and Stalinism is often lauded as one of the best nonfiction books of the twentieth century; it experienced a new surge in popularity after the 2016 U.S. elections.
By Deb A.
Americans, don't forget to vote this week!
By Deb A.
Hallowe'en is looming, so we turn this week to something a little more gory. This month not one but two blood-based art projects have hit the headlines, both with a political message.
Marc Quinn will draw blood from 5000 people for his next piece in order to highlight the global refugee crisis and, crucially, raise money for refugees worldwide. Billed as "a monument to our common humanity" that emphasises "how there is more that unites us than divides us," Odyssey will feature two cubes, each containing one metric ton of frozen blood--one cube will hold blood drawn from refugees, while the other will hold blood drawn from non-refugees around the world, including celebrities such as Anna Wintour and Jude Law. The cubes will be unlabelled, pushing viewers to recognise the basic humanity that is shared by us all. If you would like to stand in solidarity with refugees, or even if you just fancy the idea of your blood mingling with Paul McCartney's DNA, you can buy the chance to donate your blood to the artwork. Odyssey will debut outside the New York Public Library in Autumn 2019, then go on a global tour.
Earlier this month Khaled Jarrar stood on Wall Street selling vials of his own blood from a cooler with the aim of drawing attention to the role of America's military industry in war and violence. In his performance piece Blood for Sale, Jarrar sold his first eight bottles of blood for $19.48 to mark the price of Smith and Wesson stock and the 1948 Palestine War. The rest were valued according to the stock prices of 15 major American defence contractors: from $75 (Science Applications International Corporation) to $347 (Lockheed Martin). Interested passers-by who preferred to simply make a donation or buy the accompanying certificate without incurring the inconvenience of having to carry blood around for the rest of their day were rebuffed: As taxpayers to the American government, they already had blood on their hands, Jarrar reasoned. Proceeds of the sales of the 50 10-ml samples will be donated to hospitals in Yemen and Gaza.
By Deb A.
For young readers
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy; illustrated by Elizabeth Baddely
Turning Pages: My Life Story by Sonia Sotomayor; illustrated by Lulu Delacre
The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor by Sonia Sotomayor
My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams
Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life by Jane S. De Hart (out October 16, 2018)
Elena Kagan: A Biography by Meg Greene
My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
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