Friday, June 10, 2022

WHEN MATES MAKE BOOKS: Anwen Crawford's No Document


"Nothing we made was meant to last. Nothing we made has lasted for as long as what we made by making together."

Once upon a time a neighbour in this now dwindled constellation of blogs, Anwen Crawford is just about to publish No Document.  The core of this remarkable book is a fragmentary portrait of a beloved friend who died young and the commemoration of their partnership as visual artists mounting raids on Sydney's public places and abandoned buildings.  But in No Document the personal is political and the political is personal, so this private loss becomes a prism for all the injuries and injustices in the world. 

What results is not a meld or a genre-blend but a collage of modes and materials - latticed strips of memoir, art history, political protest, urban geography, colonial history, poetry, criticism, eulogy, diary, reverie. Appropriated scraps from newspapers, radio reports, children's reference books, photography manuals, and more. 

So it's a cut-up and it's cut up - even when writing coolly about slaughterhouses or refugee detention centres, the author's anger and anguish simmers beneath the preternaturally controlled surface. A short book, No Document is a dense read -  not in the sense of opacity (the prose is as lucid and elegant as Crawford's music criticism) but in the way a diamond is dense. So much ache and thought is compressed into these spare sentences. 

The look of the pages is as important as the text. There's a lot of blank white - many pages with only a few lines or a short paragraph. Sentences that break off unfinished. These voids seem to reflect an unwillingness to sew things up,  in both the resolution and healing a wound senses.  All that empty space evokes the absence around which the book is written - each patch of prose like a bandage that doesn't completely cover a laceration. The blanks suggests silence - points at which sorrow can no longer be verbalized, words are not enough.  

No Document has been shortlisted for the Stella Prize and is receiving warm responses from critics, including this detailed appreciation (which also incorporates sample pages from the book) at The Sydney Review of Books from Alix Beeston .

You can order No Document from Transit Books (in the USA) or from Giramondo (in Australia)

update Monday June 13 - the online US launch for No Document is this evening at 7pm Pacific Time / 10 pm East Coast, it's hosted by Point Reyes Books, attendance free or with donation (register here) and features Anwen Crawford in dialogue with Juliana Spahr