Tuesday, May 2, 2017


The  latest pleasing  acquisition  is  a short , broken  run  of  the above  privately  published  Canberra   produced   publication  inspired  by  the   journal of  the same  name  launched by  critic and novelist   Wyndham Lewis on the eve of  World War l  "to  blow   sky  high  the complacent  insularity of the contemporary  English  literary  establishment."
 By Peter Simon
Co-editors were   teacher  , Canberra Times theatre  critic   and  Melbourne  Age Monthly Review writer  Ann Nugent  and  radio  broadcaster, civil libertarian  and  librarian  Bill  Tully. 
 In the  first  issue , Autumn  1987 ,  printed by the  Queanbeyan Age , the  co-editors, under  the heading   BLAST-Voice of the Passionate  "I" , explained  that the Lewis  journal  only ran for two issues before "its  explosions were  overshadowed  by the  extra-literary detonations  of  war ."     

Lewis, it recalled, had  later  gone on  to attack  such literary  figures of inter-war Britain  as  "dumb ox" Hemingway, "pseudo-believer" Eliot , " mirthless  acrobat "Joyce  as  well as  the  contradictory  combination of high art  and liberal humanism  practised  by the  Bloomsbury Group .

The Canberra  BLAST aimed to emulate the personal temerity and oppositional stance of its  namesake's editor  while avoiding  his nine year "flirtation "  with  fascism .  

It planned to be a  literary- political journal whose   pages would  express the immediacy and  force  of  personal " I's" and  critical eyes. 

BLAST opposed both the mass media's  processing of human voices into muffled  mumblings  and the way in which minority , ideologically committed  journals  bind  the  voices of  individuals  into blinding , strident declarations of uncritical slogans .
With allegiance to no politic party or  to  any  programmatic ideology, BLAST  was open to  all iconoclastic  writers   who  desire  to expose  cultural shams , social pretensions , political deceptions and all manner of hypocrisies  in  Canberra  and  beyond .
It rejected "the icons of objectivity in research and  dispassionate  writing"  and sought  contributions without the bias of  these complacency-inducing myths. Poetry, short fiction , criticism , graphics , letters and  comment  were  welcome .  
Contributions on civil liberties  and human rights , peace  and anti-nuclear issues  , the urban and  rural environment  and the role and  performance of  the media  were particularly sought . In  assessing material   for publication  the editorial committee   looked for  the ringing  voice of  the writer unfettered by  ideological , political , social  or  cultural  restraints.

Pen , Sword and Bomb

Under the above heading , by Bill Tully , he drew attention to the fact that Australia's main media in general  had ignored a  national first  , the  symposium Imaging  the  Real : Australian Writing in the Nuclear  Age, held  November  11   1986 ,  sponsored by  organisations such as  Australian Defence  Force Academy , the International Year of  Peace  Secretariat (Department of Foreign Affairs ) and the  Literature Board of  the  Australia  Council .

Apart  from speakers  Ted Trainer    and   Alex Carey ,  who  connected business  with   institutionised  belligerence , most participants had stuck to  select readings on humanity, ecology  and  hopes  for  a  better world .

 Carey's long  talk  had  raised the  question  should writers  contribute to  a  journal such as  Quadrant, with its links to  right wing  pro-nuclear  and anti worker groups. Monetary need , desire  for publication, and high literary aspirations  were  used  by writers as excuses  for  entering  such elites, he added.

Tully said  the  " final contradiction "  was how  the  Defence Academy , educating warriors , could  co-sponsor  a  gathering  against a  conflict  such apprentices   were  being  prepared   for .

 French  Connections   with  BLAST.

 The fierce looking   fish  creature on  the front cover  of the first  edition  and subsequent  editions, the  publication's emblem , was   a  Volvoce , created  by  J.J.Grandville , pseudonym of  Jean  Gerard (1803-1847 ), a lithographer  and  graphic artist . Grandville had been  the stage name of his grandparents  who  had  been  comedians in  his  birthplace of Nancy .

 His  drawings  had  been used  in the New York  Review  of  Books since   1963.

Readers were informed that   in  Grandville's world  the Volvoce eats  another of his creations, Voricellas, said to have been born in flowers   and  to have both  human   and   flower  forms.  The unworldly, innocent  Voricellas  only realise danger when  it  is  too  late . 

Grandville compared his Volvoce  to  the terrible  cholera  bacteria which halved the   population  of Paris in  the  1833  epidemic .

The first edition  included   a  Letter  From Paris  by   Frederic  Briot   which featured  a  lively week  of  demonstrations  throughout  France , a student beaten to  death by  police , a ministerial  resignation , a  backdown  by President  Chirac... which  could  apply to  France today .

Another  French  contributor , a  special consultant no less, was Professor  Jean  Chesneaux  , with interests in China , Vietnam , the Pacific , Jules Verne  and radical ecology , the Australian edition of  his latest book Transpacifiques  about to be  published.   

The first  edition of the  publication  included an advertisement  for  WINCH BOOKS , Canberra, run  by  Ron Winch .   I had dealings  with him  when  I ran the  Den of Antiquity  at  Largs Bay  , Adelaide,  when  he came across  on book  buying   and   valuation   trips .

A Methodist ,   he had worked in the old Customs House  at  Port Adelaide in  younger  days, when dancing  was  frowned upon ,   and  had  many  anecdotes . 

Ron was renowned  for  paying   for  purchases   with  a cheque , which he often absent  mindedly  forgot  to sign  while  still  talking  enthusiastically  about  books , local history , etc.  Early on ,  I  was  advised  by   an Adelaide  bookdealer  to  always make sure  Ron signed his cheques , as  otherwise it  would  result  in   phone  calls  to  Canberra , waiting  for  another  cheque to  be  sent slowly  by   mail .

On one occasion   he came to my  bookshop  and  I  later  found  him stretched out  full length  on  his side on the floor  next  to a box of  books . What a way to exit left .  He was not  dead however .  Being unable to  bend  down because  of  old  age,  he had  simply lowered  himself  down  slowly  to  the  deck  to look  at  interesting volumes  on  bottom shelves  and  pulled  the  box  after  him  as  he slid  along . Glad to see he was still alive, I helped him up, dusted  him  off  and  gratefully accepted  his (double checked )  signed  cheque.
 In Adelaide in connection with  the valuation of  a  fabulous collection  of  the   famous  Australian  polar  explorer , Douglas  Mawson , he rang  and  asked  what  value   did   I  think  could  be  placed  on  a  sled .

Taken aback  by this strange question  , never having handled  a sled , a large  model of  a Japanese  battle ship , yes ,  but no snow transport ,  I  suggested  the Smithsonian  in America  and  the  Norwegian authorities  might  be  able  to  help  seeing  as  Amundsen  won   the  race  to  the   South  Pole.

UPCOMING : More items of interest  from  BLAST ,  diverse contributors , a query  from  Mexico  and  a  Canberra link with  the Palace of  Versailles .