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Fanning the Flames · Issue #1

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Hello and welcome to Bonfire Books’ inaugural newsletter, Fanning the FlamesFanning the Flames will be a monthly round-up that showcases upcoming titles and gives us the opportunity to share with our friends and readers what we have been reading, thinking, watching, or listening to at Bonfire HQ.

This month’s issue comprises:

1.     Upcoming Titles

2.     Recent Titles: The Neighbor by Caleb Caudell

3.    The Dulled Edge, by Andrea Jonathan, Executive Director

4. Digital Exhibition: Tom Roberts, Box Hill

5. With Light and Dust, book review by Lucas Smith, Editor-In-Chief

Upcoming Titles

None But The Crocodiles by Stewart Grahame

Illustration by Lily Hull

In the late 1890s a group of disillusioned Australian men and women under the guidance of a spellbinding unionist named William Lane, settled in Paraguay to build a perfect society. The ‘New Australia’ experiment soon faltered, foundered and fractured on the shoals of daily practicalities and human nature. Stewart Grahame, who spent “over five hundred nights in a mud hut” at New Australia pieces together the fascinating saga of naivete, hope and surprising resilience, using primary documents, interviews, and his own lived experience. First published in 1912, None But The Crocodiles is essential reading for Utopians and idealists of every stripe.

Excerpt from the text:

Quite apart from the causes of quarrel between a section of the New Australians and their leader, further acute dissension broke out among certain of the Socialists themselves over this question of contributions. In the agreement, which all signed before they were admitted to membership, it was laid down, “Every member of the Association, by act of joining the Association agrees to subscribe to the funds of the Association all he may possess when he is finally enrolled,” and most had honestly adhered to this arrangement. But some days before the “Royal Tar” had left Sydney the following paragraph appeared in the Sydney Daily Telegraph,[1] “It is stated there is one man among the voyagers who has not staked everything on the success of the new system, but has kept some landed property he possesses in Brisbane as a stand-by in case, at any time, he should want money to return to Queensland.” Naturally, those who saw this statement felt incensed against the unknown individual who “had kept back part of the price” and as the voyage proceeded at least half a dozen persons were accused of being the guilty party. Though all hotly denied the accusation the suspicion remained that a few of the Socialists had not burnt their boats like the others, but had merely moored them out of sight where they might be useful for retreat if necessary.

Since the last-moment repairs, alterations, and extra provisioning of the “Royal Tar” had cost roughly £1200 William Lane was obliged to embark with only about twenty-five pounds in the exchequer—not nearly sufficient for the party’s immediate needs when they reached Montevideo. As some members of the party still had a few odd coins in their possession, it was decided—contrary to Mr. H. G. Wells’ belief that “Modern Socialism has no designs upon the money in a man’s pocket,”—to take up a final collection of everyone’s last halfpenny.

Theoretically, therefore, there was no money on the ship except that in Lane’s possession when the New Australians stepped ashore at Montevideo—where the press went into raptures over the looks of the “exceptionally beautiful and comely” Australian women. It soon became evident, however, that a few of the Socialists had indeed retained a private hoard for use in cases of emergency. Their perfidy, already suspected, was proved when a number of them returned to the boat quite expensively intoxicated. Had it not been for the bad impression that such a move would have created in Australia they would doubtless have been expelled at once from the community. Lane shrank from such an extreme for the present, however, and the sinners were let off with a severe reprimand. Mutual recriminations necessarily followed this revelation of bad ‘mateship’, and the split in the camp was daily widened.

When the necessary funds arrived from Sydney, and the party embarked for the 1300 mile trip up the broad river to Asuncion, another incident, small in itself, stirred up still more ill-feeling. During the wearisome voyage from Australia, of about 60 days, the children had tasted none but the plainest food and their parents were anxious to give them a little treat. Since there was no money available for the purpose, some of them bartered various personal belongings for a barrel of native molasses, which young and old pronounced delicious. But alas! one of those in authority declared that the molasses contained a certain percentage of alcohol, and was therefore, according to the strict letter of the New Australian law, prohibited. Disregarding the children’s tears, their mothers’ protests, and the stronger language of their fathers, the newly elevated officers seized the barrel and heaved it overboard where it could harm the morals of none but the crocodiles!

[1] July 11, 1893

The Bay and Padie Book by Furnley Maurice, illustrated by Talia Lomman

The Bay and Padie Book was written by acclaimed Melbourne poet Furnley Maurice (Frank Wilmot) for his two sons in 1917. This edition is newly illustrated with watercolours by local artist Talia Lomman. Featuring both Australian themes and perennial childhood staples such as cats, bedtime and excursions into town, The Bay and Padie Book will delight (and calm) children of all ages, and those who read to them.

The Neighbor by Caleb Caudell

Published by Bonfire Books in 2021, The Neighbor is an unflinching portrayal of everyman Jessie Clemons, pushed from the dull edge of a dead-end existence and plunged into tragedy and misadventure along the loud and exhaust-filled state highways and down dimly-lit basements of the dilapidated dwellings of the American rust-belt.

Gripping and gritty, fast-paced and dour yet revealing a glimmer of triumphal will, The Neighbor marks Caudell’s debut as a novelist, after writing extensively in a style of literary realism at Middle American Lit, creating an emerging new brand of didactic and sensuous self-reflection firmly located in the deterritorialised geography of the American Midwest.

Excerpt from the text:

MERTON STARED and then smirked.

“You’re kidding me right?”

“No, I’m not kidding. I killed him. I didn’t set out to do it. I was trying to rob him.”

Merton grabbed a Siesta Mist brand soda and spit a wad of tobacco into it.

“You don’t have the face of a killer. No, I’ve seen killers. I’ve known em. You ain’t one.”

“Well I am. I don’t know what it means to look like one.”

“So you running from the law now, huh?”

“Yeah, don’t know where I’m going. Figure I won’t make it too far. They gotta be after me by now. They gotta be close. It happened last night about two or three in the morning and I’ve been running since.”

“You know what I think? I think you’re running from your wife, something like that. Getting away from home. Wife and crying kid and all that. Hell, I can understand it. You don’t have to come up with something crazy. Some men just can’t take the domestic life. Me, I like it just fine. I love being home and off the road. Funny thing is, my old bitch ex-wife was the one who took off. Can you believe that? Here I was on the road for days at a time, dreaming about getting home, and she’s sitting there at home dreaming about leaving. You think you know someone, well, I don’t think you ever do. No bond is unbreakable, from what I’ve seen.”

The semi chugged along the narrow road through the countryside. They passed broken down barns and mounds of rotting wood, rusted tractors overrun by weeds, vacant silos and useless fences chewed up and forlorn, plots of land long abandoned by men long dead and forgotten. They rode on for a time without speaking. Merton looked at a dial on the dash, checked his watch and coughed.

“Well, we’re not too far from town now. You hungry at all?”

“I could eat.”

“We’ll stop and get something. It just hit me how hungry I am. Plenty of options coming up too.”

Merton patted his stomach and slid his lips back and forth and hummed.

“Now, as for you and your whole situation. I could drop you off at the restaurant, wherever we decide to eat, or I could drop you off at the next town, or somewhere else farther on down the road. It’s up to you, as long as it’s on my way. I gotta go southwest no matter what. I could take you all the way to Sheetsville if you wanna ride that far.”

He picked up the gun in his lap, leaned to his right and tossed it down the narrow hall leading to the back of the truck.

“It doesn’t matter to me either.”

They passed into a small town and went by old white houses with green and brown siding and small lawns with old cars and mowers and fishing boats on gravel drives on either side of the street. Houses interspersed with gas stations and auto shops, drab brick and metal buildings every few blocks, some closed and others open but looking about the same, shabby and sparsely patronized.

“Alright, I say we go to Quicky’s for a burger. I love their sandwiches.”

“That’s alright with me.”

The enormous truck barely fit on the road that ran through the desolate town square. It was hard to tell if the old crumbling stone and rotting wooden buildings with cracked storefront windows held open businesses or if the shops had been shut down for decades; a heavy silence and stillness hung over the streets. Merton turned right at a stoplight and the car that was stopped in the left turn lane had to back up to make space for the truck’s wide right turn.

“I’d hate driving a semi. You’re always in the way. It would make me nervous moving something this big,” Clemons said.

“Ah, it’s not such a big deal once you get used to it. Everybody’s just gotta get outta the way. Can’t be helped. Gotta get the stuff down the road on time. They gotta get outta your way. I don’t think people mind all that much. Just a minor inconvenience.”

“I don’t like getting in people’s way.”

“It’s not too much of a problem, I don’t believe.”

Merton turned into the Quicky’s parking lot. The restaurant had red and white stripes along the sides and grey ducts protruding from the back.

“Well, we gotta park and go in. Can’t fit the truck in the drive through.”

They got out of the semi and walked to the restaurant. Merton walked with a limp in his right leg. The air smelled of grease and beef and the wind blew paper bags and napkins across the parking lot. Plastic straws rolled about and birds with swollen bellies hopped around and glutted themselves on sesame seed buns.

Clemons walked ahead of Merton and opened the door and held it open for him.

“Thank you much.”

The air inside was cold.

“Nice and refreshing,” said Merton.

“I never take air conditioning for granted. One of our finest luxuries, if you ask me,” he said, turning his head and looking at Clemons with an intense gaze that seemed hungry for recognition.

They stood before the glowing menu above the counter and over the head of a thin young man with an acne-addled face wearing a black visor and a green polo shirt. The menu glowed with pictures of hyper-detailed cheeseburgers bursting with their own juices and cascading french fries spotted with glittering salt crystals.

“I don’t know what I want, I need a minute,” said Clemons.

“Take your time, it’s on me.”

“You don’t have to do that. I got some cash.”

“I insist. You’re on hard times. I make good money and I don’t get the chance to do anything nice all that often.”

Clemons stepped up to the counter and glanced at the employee and then looked at the menu.

“I’ll have the double Juicyburger and a large basket of crunchy fries. And a large Mr. Plib please. And he’s gonna get mine,” Clemons said while pointing back to Merton.

Clemons stepped to the side and Merton hobbled up.

“Alright, now I want a Pattyblaster, three cheese sliders and a large basket of loaded bacon wedges and a large butterfinger milkshake.”

After Merton paid, they waited by the condiment dispensers. Within two minutes a dumpy woman with dull blonde hair slapped their plastic tray on the counter and called their number.

“I got the tray, you go on and grab a seat,” Clemons said.

“You need ketchup?”

“Get lots of ketchup,” said Merton.

Clemons carried the tray radiating the heat of fried food to the condiment station. He slid a few paper cups off a stack and held one under a wide nozzle and pumped the ketchup. The red vinegary sauce spattered the counter and Clemon’s shirt and filled the flimsy paper cup. He pumped on and on, grunting as the dispenser spewed pungent red droplets everywhere.

The restaurant was almost empty. An old man wearing a cap and big glasses sat by the window and chewed a burger and looked onto the road at the passing cars; he seemed stuck in place, as if he were furniture blending into the bleak scenery of a fading small-town restaurant, one piece of hard plastic among all the others. Clemons sat down at the table across from Merton.

“I’m gonna need more ketchup than that. I’m sorry to say.”

Clemons got back up, his chair squeaking against the dirty brown tile. A moment later he came back with another six paper cups of ketchup.

“Thank you for this meal.”

“Just pay it forward. Do a good deed for someone on down the road.”

“I figure I better get to some good deeds soon or I’ll have hell to pay.”

The two men unwrapped their sandwiches and slid their straws into their sweating sodas and scooted their chairs and cleared their throats. They ate quickly, chomping and swallowing and wiping the sauce from their chin and cheeks and tossing wadded up napkins onto the tray, pausing to suck up their soda.

There was no talking, only chewing and slurping and burping and chair scooting. When they finished, it was as if they had blacked out and come to, with no memory of what had happened, awakening at a table of dirty napkins and strewn sesame seeds and crumpled paper cups and empty plastic cups and baskets, ketchup stains and mayo streaks and salt and pepper specks all over the table.

“Well, that was damn good.”

Merton patted his stomach and both men got up, weighed down with fried meat and starch. Clemons took the tray to the trashcan and shoved it into the swinging door. The can was overflowing, so he held the door back with one hand and dumped the trash on top of the already jampacked garbage mound and then jerked the tray back while letting go of the door so that it would swing forward and stop trash from spilling out.

He heard cans and bags falling from within the larger container around the trashcan but he turned and walked out with Merton. They got back to the semi and Merton sighed as he climbed back in and then he whistled and patted his stomach.

“Boy, I sure am full after that one. Can’t get enough of those bacon wedges.”

He turned and looked at Clemons.

“Well, you wanna go on your way here or you want me to take you a bit farther down the road?”

“Uh, well, maybe the next town would be alright. I think I need to sit and digest for a bit.”

“That’s Crawfordsville. It’s quite a bit bigger than Claytonville. Hell, whatever you’re running from, you can hide better there. It’s another 70 or 80 miles I’d say. Course there’s a couple of smaller towns between if you want to stop there too.”

“Crawfordsville would be fine.”

Merton started up the truck and took out a dip of chewing tobacco and got back onto the road. The truck rumbled and he honked the horn and startled an old man at a crosswalk. Clemons smoked a cigarette.

They left town and drove through lush meadows with lilacs and tulips. Prairies spreading between oak forests with deep green leaves glittering in the sun and trembling in the breeze. Big white farmhouses stood next to red barns and grey silos. Shadows mottled the road and fields.

They passed out of the flatlands and into the hills; they drove between rising walls of blasted rock and over sparkling streams with sandstone beds. Through rolling pastureland and grassy mounds where calico cows roamed and grazed and then huddled together and drank from muddy pools and shared sly looks, their eyes reflecting an inborn and slightly sardonic wisdom. The green sloping vistas gave way to darkened forests and the horizon climbed into a bumpy line of trees that halved the sky. 

“Yeah, I do prefer it down a little farther south here. Just gets so much prettier” Merton said.

“The hills are nice. Looks like they’ve been getting more rain down here.”

“Yeah, I’d say so. There’s a lot of cows down here too. There’s some nice spots around here to go camping, from what I hear. You like camping?”

“I haven’t been in some time.”

“Me neither. But I love to get out in nature when I can. Love to sit at the fire as it gets dark and just let the woods wash over me, ya know?”

Merton dialed a knob on the dash and cycled through radio stations.

“You don’t mind if I put something on, do ya? I like to have some tunes going from time to time. Not all the time, but it’s nice to have some singing and music every now and then.”

“I don’t mind.”

Merton settled on a pop country station; a song by Tate Buckman about being an average guy who drinks beer and goes fishing.

“Well, country ain’t what it used to be,” said Merton.

“I don’t listen to much music.”

“It sounds all slick now. Sounds like pop music. Not like how it used to be, that’s for sure. Course that’s the way of things. What can you do?”

Clemons nodded off and then snapped awake. He rubbed his face and sat up in his seat and looked out the window. Merton looked ahead and whistled along with the song.

“I’ve been asleep, how long was I out?”

“You were asleep just now? Huh, I don’t know, not long. Twenty minutes maybe.”

“Whew, I’m wore out. I still haven’t slept since two nights ago.”

“Shew boy, it’s a wonder you’re not conked out. Specially not without taking something. You sure you don’t want a five hour energy or something?”

“Nah, I’ll get some sleep later. I just gotta get on down the road far enough.”

Clemons looked at the sideview mirror. A cop car was behind them, lights flashing. He looked over at Merton and then at the mirror and the tinted black windshield of the car and the piercing red and blue lights strobing like a demented disco.

“Hey, turn down the radio.”

They heard the shrieking sirens. Merton glanced at the rearview mirror.

“Well, looks like the law’s got business with us.”

Clemons’ heart thudded and his ears burned. 

The Dulled Edge

News cycle fatigue and the end of narrative

Editorial by Andrea Jonathan

It’s only January but it feels like April. The not-so-distant drone of arterial traffic reminds me that supply chains are still working well enough to ship fuel from distant lands, despite the hysteria of empty shelves and stories about rationing and impending privation. Some empty supermarket shelves would probably do us all some good. It might go some way towards reversing the health toll of being locked in one’s living room for two years.

How can one write candidly about the generalities of life without reverting to tired scripts about pandemics and politics? I pronounce the ‘age of information’ to be over. There is no more information – only content. Poring over the day’s newspaper, or being more honest, clicking through one, is the intellectual equivalent of the morning’s contents of a bed pan, poured through one’s eyes and seeped into the brain. These daily ablutions create a (false) sense of connectedness and belonging – everyone else knows the talking points too, and can produce facsimiles of critical thought and dialogue in a parody of social interaction. There is nothing new to learn, and nothing old to learn for that matter, by firing up your digital roll for your daily scroll.

Moreover, the speed and frequency of narrative shift has increased to such a velocity that even the medically diagnosed carpal-tunnelled scrollers can hardly keep up. Rather than an overarching story (‘narrative’) that combines concepts, actors and events into a somewhat cohesive sense of human understanding, vacuous slogans have come to predominate, which themselves are discarded and forgotten as quickly as a surgical mask – ‘our way out of this – pandemic of the (x) – all in this together – do the right thing – rules are rules – community expectations, and most recently – war with Russia, any minute now’.

Alas I can only speak of such anti-knowledge as a (recovering) addict myself. In March last year, I wrote a reflection, Novum Paradigmawherein I pronounced the apparent end of the acute phase of our woes and encouraged you to look for the silver linings of a more local and personal world brought about by the blunt-force trauma of collective healthcare. It’s not that the piece aged badly – putting aside its premature optimism of it all being nearly over – it is that I underestimated the strength of the digital undertow invisible from the surface. I failed to heed my own advice and for months found myself dragged asunder to mild outrage and pointless distraction.

I don’t know that humans have developed a culture of screen moderation anywhere in the world – one that respects the teetotalers and stigmatises and pathologises the addicts, but I suspect this is about much more than mere technology, the likes of which one already had in our pockets for a decade or more. The collapse of trustworthy sources of information (if they ever were) has left everyone a ‘plan truster’ of one self-proclaimed expert or another. A second Dark Age is upon us at a time when the library of Alexandria is at our fingertips.

As with most things that are bad for us, the poison is in the dose, and so begins 2022’s detox – original writing in a paper notebook (how very Melbourne) and nightly reading of paperbacks – for sanity rather than vanity.

I’ve noticed in the past few months when attempting social interaction a certain dulling of the edge – a relative sense of unease and a perceptible retardation of wit. It stands to reason that the hundreds of small social interactions one would participate in on a given day would add up to a certain facility, the corollary being that when isolated, even if prodded by words on a screen or speaker, this skill would lapse and take some work to re-sharpen.

Rather than face this head-on and throw myself into every available opportunity, I propose a more moderate approach – in reading the dialogue of others to re-learn how it is done. Attenuated attention spans being what they are, long novels are out and short stories are in, which fortunately for me are full of short quips and repartee. For some instruction in the art of amorous confabulation, I have consulted Anton Chekov’s The Proposal:

Digital Exhibition

Each issue we will share some photographic representations of art that have caught our eye.

1.     Quiet Study (Girl Reading) Tom Roberts, 1889

2.     Dewy Eve (Nearing the Artist’s Camp, Box Hill) Tom Roberts, 1887

With Light and Dust-Xi Nan & Fish Lu (2020)

Review by Lucas Smith

The poems in With Light and Dust by Xi Nan and Fish Lu, translated into English by Xi, describe the details of life lived in China’s new apartment blocks, those surreal fortress-like behemoths that have sprung up with the speed of bamboo all over the People’s Republic. In Xi’s introduction she states that one of the goals of the book is that “our readers could see themselves mirrored in another individual’s life.” This is of course a perennial purpose and effect of poetry, one of many, and perhaps one of the more humble purposes and probably what drives most readers of poetry, who tend to be obsessive and insatiably curious. Readers of poetry nowadays are also, unfortunately, nearly always also writers of poetry. More on this later.

Have you ever looked at a strange window, perhaps seen someone inside that room and wondered what it would be like to be them for a day, a year? Xi’s hope for With Light and Dust is not quite the same as Western “empathy” which more often than not is a slippery and manipulative word used to harangue; a kind of forced identification with weakness, a way to shame people with whom one disagrees.

Xi and Fish are most concerned with conveying daily life in a subtle yet warts and all way, as if Eileen Myles started tweeting about her meals. The “flat affect” of “I did a thing” discourse. The tendency is documentary, archival. What is distinctly lacking in the book are liberal shibboleths or nods to Western sensibilities. The famed social credit system makes no appearance. Xi and Fish appear to have no explicit politics at all. (Yeah, I know, post-political is most political, yadda yadda yadda) There is a parable about Confucius, which may or may not be based on a traditional story and an allusion to Borges. There are probably also political connotations in the original that are inaccessible to a Western audience; no complaint or eulogy, just description, aphorism and the occasional private notion. The book even bills itself as “a work of nonfiction”. Is this book Communist Party approved, and how does that matter, if at all?

Xi has a degree from the London School of Economics and lived in Britain for more than a decade. In an interview with their publisher she states that living in Britain taught her “respect for individual values”. My parish priest is fond of telling the story of a Chinese university student who wandered in to his church one Sunday and asked him after Mass what the word “love” meant, as she had never encountered it before.

That Terror House, which released such titles as Masculinity Against Madness and Columbine Pilgrim, and bills itself as a “dissident” publisher, should release a book by two Chinese, one of them female, prompts many questions. I, for one, would love to know how much the authors know about the fraught politics of Anglophone publishing, but such things are a sideshow and border on prurient. They have done it, and congratulations to them. Publishers and authors need not justify their choices to anyone. As Fish writes:

       “The world is very big

       Very wide

       There are many possibilities

       What we see is

       Just one of them

       And so

       To be alive—

       This is the most important thing”

No Westerner before a few decades ago, and certainly not a Christian, would ever put something quite like that. We all have something we feel is worth dying for, or at least feel that we ought to have something and that people who do are somehow better off. Western restlessness is reflected back in these lines of simple acceptance.

Later Fish writes:

       “As long as we are alive

Then nothing is unbearable”

To the Western mind this is jarring. To encounter something truly alien such as this that is yet authentic and speaking in a modern voice of modern things is certainly worthwhile and challenging. It is a genuine cultural encounter, and poetry, in its immediacy has the great advantage of being unmediated between reader and writer. The words on the page are all there are.

Ivan Illich, in his masterful book Limits to Medicine (1976) writes that, “Whereas the Chinese tried very early to treat sickness through the removal of pain, nothing of this sort was prominent in the classical West. The Greeks did not even think about enjoying happiness without taking pain in their stride.” Now of course, after the soul has been first divorced from the body via Cartesian rationality, and now completely dispensed with in postmodern managerial utilitarianism, we Westerners are becoming rather Eastern in our approach to pain.

It is perhaps spurious to compare ancient Chinese master poets Li Po and Tu Fu with contemporary writers but they are the only other Chinese authors I know. Both have a more convivial tone, a rounder affect, if you will, a sense of irony and a sense of wonder. Judging by Xi and Fish modern China seems more advanced than even Australia in terms of atomisation.

At its best images of daily life leap out off the page and take on a deeper meaning. Metaphor is inherent to language itself, something writers of Chinese pictograms would know well. The picture that emerges from With Light and Dust is of a contentment with high-rise living, an insistence on finding small joy in a bowl of noodles and self-searching. The Western mental agony is absent, at least from my reading.

       “I will use the whole winter time.

       To practice flying

       So in the warmth of spring, when all flowers bloom

       I can fly!”

                     “The Thing is Like This” (#152)

Czeslaw Milosz, writing in the early 1990s, in discussing his personal conflict with both ‘political’ and ‘pure’ poetry (veneration of the latter he calls a form of “idol worship”) says that in modern and now postmodern  conditions where the audience for poetry is primarily fellow and aspiring practitioners, poetry “has somehow become more humble, perhaps because faith in the timelessness of and eternal endurance of the work of art has been weakened, which of course, was the foundation of disdain for the profanum vulgus.” He goes on to mention that translations of ancient East Asian poetry are considerably “closer to what readers want” than most contemporary Western poetry. Perhaps chronicling a small life is all that poets can do these days in the absence of grand narratives and cultural continuity.

Xi and Fish’s interest in things, and their “suchness”, such as a fire hydrant or an umbrella mirrors the ancient Eastern interest and respect for the natural world. In a sense the hydrant becomes the tree, part of the natural urban world, and endowed with dignity. I can remember thinking like this as a child; that certain objects had human characteristics, agency and especially feelings, that I was capable of hurting them or loving them and they would respond in kind.

This is quite different to Western oppositional thought, where ‘self’ and ‘other’ are clearly distinct. As Milosz says, in the East, “subject and object were understood not as categories of opposition but of identification.” The things around us are part of us and we are part of them.

What the fruits of these cultural exchanges will be is an open question, but it is long past time for true dialogue outside of approved bureaucratic and university (same thing) channels that fetishise the superficial differences between us and would dull the hard edges and spikes of both East and West into fetid moraines of commerce and self-congratulatory cheap universalism. Only those cultures confident in themselves can profitably engage with others. Xi admits to being changed by her many years in Britain. One poem or one book cannot do that but can offer a glimpse of a different people and way of seeing. Globalisation has not flattened all of us just yet.

Anglosphere nations by now all have sizable Chinese communities but are rarely exposed to the art of their motherland and instead are subjected to Westernised grievance grifters or liberal heroes like Ai Weiwei, who is simply a sum of all journalistic fantasies; what we see is filtered through our own media. Here, Xi and Fish offer a tantalising view into the private minds and lives of contemporary China.

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