Category Archives: Lovers of Philosophy

Stuff relevant to book I am writing called Lovers of Philosophy

Djuna Barnes

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I was drawn to this book because Djuna Barnes was a member of the modernist expat Paris-based circle that included Gertude Stein, who I am writing a book about. Although I acknowledge this slim novel was ahead of its time in the way it presented lesbianism and transgenderism, and it creates a unique atmosphere of an other-worldly underworld Paris, I found it a bit hard to get into. It made me think of Woolf, Joyce, Beckett and other modernists, but didn’t quite ensnare me and pull me in like those writers do. Still, I’m glad I read it and the eerie, dark, sub-logical, liminal, demi-monde it portrays is deliciously idiosyncratic and haunting.



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Knausgaard on writing

Inadvertent by Karl Ove Knausgård

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This essay cuts to the heart of what writing is with the clarity of a diamond. Knausgaard talks about his failures and successes in trying to write authentically without artifice or pretension. His method involves stripping away all hindrances to capturing the truth of a moment or an experience. He also writes eloquently about the ways that culture and common beliefs shape the way we see the world, literally constructing the world we inhabit. He touches on how science, for example, colours the way we see the world, but stumbles in helping us to answer the big philosophical questions that children naturally ask, but adults learn to stop wondering about. What is the world? How did it come into existence? What is the meaning of our time here on earth? I plan to keep reading as much Knausgaard as I can get my hands on. A modern-day Proust who writes with the unashamed honesty of a Sartre or Beauvoir.



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Writing Tips

Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice

Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice by Colum McCann

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Letters to a Young Poet’, McCann’s book contains lots of really helpful little gems for the young (and not so young) writer. The prose is fresh, honest and pleasantly surprising, and refreshingly free of tired old cliches like ‘show don’t tell’. Covers all the aspects of being a writer, from seeking inspiration to dealing with frustration and failure, finding an agent, not finding an agent, etc, etc.



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Knausgaard’s Struggle

A Death in the Family (My Struggle Book 1)

A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgård

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I’ve been looking forward to reading this for some time and it did not disappoint. Knausgaard is rigorously honest, but most if this honesty is targeted at himself and his own (often ‘unacceptable’) thoughts and feelings. He comes across as an outsider looking in on life, in the tradition of Sartre’s Roquentin in Nausea. The writing also poignantly and painfully describes the distance between us all even when we are close. A fine piece of literature that belongs amongst the best in the existentialist canon.



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A Writer’s Paris

A Writer's Paris: A Guided Journey For The Creative Soul

A Writer’s Paris: A Guided Journey For The Creative Soul by Eric Maisel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A writing friend recommended this to me for my recent self-arranged writing residency in Paris and it was perfect. Bite-sized pieces that I could read each day for inspiration about places/things/attitudes to get me in right frame of mind for creating. And it had a very important message which I heeded – to write in Paris you have to sit on your bum for many hours and write! The writing won’t just appear from endlessly swanning around Paris’s glorious streets, although I made sure i did a bit of that too…



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Writing Residencies

This year I was lucky enough to be selected for 4 writing residencies:

The Arteles Creative Centre in Finland

The Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre in Perth, Australia

The Vermont Studio Center in the United States, and

The Can Serrat International Art Residency in Barcelona

In March this year, I spent three weeks at the Arteles Creative Centre in the Finnish countryside.

This was the first residency I had ever attended. Although excited and honoured to be selected (the application process is quite competitive), I was actually a little apprehensive before I left my comfortable Brisbane home. A few fears started doing the rounds in my mind:

Would I get writer’s block with all that time on my hands? Three full weeks without distraction, with nothing to do but write. The terror of the blank page started to haunt me before I even began.

Would I be lonely? Although I was looking forward to being away from my family to focus on my manuscript, would I miss them?

Would I be cold? I’d never been to Europe, let alone one of its northernmost countries, during winter.

Would I be able to feed myself? This is a bit of an embarrassing question to admit to, but I had been depending on my partner and daughter, who are much better cooks than me, to look after the bulk of my nutrition at home. The residency was in a remote location, with weekly drives to a grocery store about half an hour away, and residents expected to cater for themselves. How would I fare?

As it turns out, none of my fears were warranted.

In fact, I ended up having one of the best times of my life. I felt a deep happiness and joy at Arteles that I had not felt for years. What was so good about it?

Being able to write, create, ponder, and go deeply into my project all day, every day, without interruption.

Meeting other writers and artists from all over the world.

The beautiful environment — pristine, quiet, still and white. Just what my creative soul needed.

Nothing to do but write…

walk in the forest…

…or watch the sunset.

And I still have three residencies to look forward to over the next year. In Perth, Vermont and Barcelona. Although I’ve had a few ups and downs with my writing career (I’m still looking for a publisher for my longer works), I feel blessed to have been selected for these opportunities. I was also selected for the Yale Writers Conference last year, but was unable to attend due to family commitments.

The recent residency at Arteles reminded me that the most rewarding thing about writing is writing itself. To be absorbed in the reverie of creative flow for hours on end provides a joy like no other.

Have you ever been to a writers residency? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience:

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Searching for Henriette Herz

Earlier this month, I flew to Berlin to conduct some research for my next book, SalonnièresSalonnières explores the lives of seven women who hosted literary salons in Europe: Isabella d’Este, Catherine de Vivonne, Marie Geoffrin, Henriette Herz, George Sand, Gertrude Stein, and Virginia Woolf.

I was in Berlin to learn more about Henriette Herz. There is very little information available about her in English, even on the Internet. A brief Wikipedia entry tells us she lived in Berlin from 1764 to 1847, and was one of the first women to establish a salon in that city during the Jewish Emancipation.

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Detail from Bildnis Henriette Herz by Anna Dorothea Therbusch, 1778. Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin. Public Domain.

A generation earlier, the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn kicked off the Jewish Enlightenment when he came out of the ghetto and engaged in regular philosophical discussions with his non-Jewish peers. Herz’s salon continued this tradition; her guests included Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt, Mirabeau, and the theologian Schleiermacher, who eventually persuaded Herz to convert to Protestantism. Moses Mendelssohn’s daughter, the novelist and translator Dorothea Schlegel, also attended the salon.

On arriving in Berlin, I had very few leads to guide my research. Apart from the Wikipedia entry, the only useful resource I could find online was a photograph of Herz’s grave with a caption indicating its location.

And so, on a quiet grey morning in Berlin, I found myself standing outside a rather neglected-looking cemetery in lower Kreuzberg with a sign on its front wall — Kirchhof Jerusalem und Neue Kirche — that matched the caption on the online photograph. The gates of the cemetery, however, were securely locked, and there wasn’t another soul in sight. I then remembered it was a public holiday in Berlin, Whitsun Monday.

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I had travelled all the way from Australia to find Henriette’s grave, but now all I could do was look through the wrought-iron fence to the wild array of headstones and monuments inside, wondering if hers was amongst them. I made my way around the perimeter of the graveyard, trying to find a way in. Eventually, I came across a side-gate that didn’t appear to be locked. I pushed it open and, after checking there were no police or other authorities around (was it an offence to break into a cemetery in Berlin on a public holiday, I wondered?), I let myself in.

Soon I found myself surrounded by the implacable silence of the dead. Gravestones and memorials for Brechts, Bernsteins, and Fischers in various states of disrepair stared blankly back at me. After about twenty minutes searching, I came across the heavily signposted gravesite of Moses Mendelssohn’s grandson, the composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. This discovery gave me hope that I must be getting close to Henriette.

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But she eluded me. I wandered past grave after grave, straining to read the names on the heavily-weathered headstones. I started to wonder if I was even in the right cemetery.

A strange, but surprisingly peaceful, feeling came over me as I traipsed through this seemingly never-ending field of nineteenth-century bourgeois Jews. This feeling was accentuated by the fact I was the only one in the cemetery at that time. All I had for company was the rustle of the trees and an occasional flitting sparrow. At one point a nervous-looking squirrel crossed my path before scurrying away into the undergrowth.

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I was just about to call off my search, when I decided to look in one last area. An unruly, heavily-overgrown section in the cemetery’s south-eastern corner that didn’t look at all promising. It had no signage, only a few small headstones, and was almost completely covered by weeds.

Then, behind a large tree, I saw it. Henrietta’s grave, just as it had appeared online, with its headstone and cross rendered in dark, charcoal-grey marble. In front of her grave, rather impudently, lay an empty beer bottle, a indignity I found quite discomfiting given all the trouble I had undergone to come and pay my respects.

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Still, at least I could be alone with her now. I felt like a detective who has just solved a major crime, or an archeologist who has unearthed a long-forgotten relic. I sat down before the resting place of the woman I had been imagining for the past two years, where she had been lying, undisturbed, for more than two centuries. There was a small sign at the foot of her grave. It read:

Henriette Herz 5.9.1764 to 22.10.1847. Saloniere. Sie leitete einen berühmten literarischen Salon. Ehefrau des Philosophen und Arztes Marcus Herz.

(Henriette Herz 5.9.1764 to 22.10.1847. Salonnière. She led a famous literary salon. Wife of the philosopher and physician Marcus Herz.

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After spending a good hour silently communing with Henriette, I slowly walked back through the cemetery grounds, and on to the noisy, jostling Kreuzberg streets outside.

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