Skip to content
Home » Blog » Fanning the Flames · Issue #3

Fanning the Flames · Issue #3

  • by

This month’s issue comprises:

1.     Upcoming Titles

Holding Patterns by Alasdair F. Cannon

An Illusion of Division?: An Examination of the ‘Dialogue of Love’ between the Eastern Orthodox & Roman Catholic Churches by Father Lawrence Cross

2.     From the Fourth International to the Fifth Political Theory: Art as a bridge between peoples and cultures, Editorial by Andrea Jonathan, Executive Director

3. Digital Exhibition: High Speed Paintings

4. No Great Mischief, Book Review by by Lucas Smith, Editor-In-Chief

The nights are a little cooler now as we head into Autumn here in the Southern Hemisphere, but that only means that we are getting ever closer to lighting the first hearth-fires of the year in our homes. At Bonfire we also hope to light fires in your minds and hearts and to that end we have a brand new newsletter.

The first copies of None But The Crocodiles have been sent out and are in the hands of our discerning customers. Order yours now here (in Australia) or here (international).

The good news continues to arrive for our young gun author Alasdair Cannon. Bonfire HQ was extremely proud to receive the following endorsement for his forthcoming book Holding Patterns from none other than economist and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis: “A powerful antidote to our saddest deficit—the dearth of hope and faith.” Holding Patterns promises to be one of the most exciting Australian non-fiction releases of the year. It is out in June.

We are also excited today to reveal the cover of An Illusion of Division? by Father Lawrence Cross, which will be out later this year. The cover features the traditional icon of Ruth and Naomi depicting the touching scene from the Book of Ruth when Ruth, after the death of her husband, declares her loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi, in spite of the difficulties that remaining with her will entail: “whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” These verses have long been used in the context of the quest for Church unity. An Illusion of Division? is a vital contribution to the spiritual and practical work of global Christian reconciliation by a priest with long experience in both Eastern and Western Church traditions.

To order titles from our catalogue please visit

Upcoming Titles

Holding Patterns by Alasdair F. Cannon

Holding Patterns is a unique blend of memoir, cultural criticism, psychoanalysis and Nabokovian wordplay, that takes aim at everything from R U OK? Day to Obama’s foreign policy record, and that’s just the first essay. With explosive empathy, disarming candour, and inside-out self-reflection, Cannon dissects some of the deepest problems of the late industrial subject and the society it dwells in, always with an eye to the fleshy person beneath the accretions of our technological world. Featuring dazzling wordplay, deep intertextuality and a few subliminal side quests, Holding Patterns is a debut to savour for lovers of Wallace, Beckett, and other authors attuned to the foundational paradoxes of our time. Alasdair Cannon is a powerful new Australian voice.

An Illusion of Division?: An Examination of the ‘Dialogue of Love’ between the Eastern Orthodox & Roman Catholic Churches by Father Lawrence Cross

The Dialogue of Love was a series of correspondences and events undertaken between leaders of the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, beginning with the famous embrace between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem in 1964. Marking the most significant modern attempt at rapprochement between the churches, the Dialogue led to deeper mutual understandings, fruitful relationships and a recognition of spiritual blessings.

With his unique perspective as a Catholic priest in the Eastern tradition, and his belief in a deep and abiding ‘mystically real bond’ between the Churches, Father Lawrence Cross brings a wealth of research to his examination of the Dialogue of Love, asking throughout the important question, to what degree is the division between East and West merely an illusion?

Moving from practical considerations to the workings of the Spirit, to dialogue as theology, with extensive notes referring to Latin, Greek and Russian primary source material, An Illusion of Division? Is a comprehensive study of a profound revelatory unfolding in Church and world history that will be of interest to Christians of all traditions who thirst for unity.

From the Fourth International to the Fifth Political Theory: Art as a bridge between peoples and cultures

Editorial by Andrea Jonathan

As much as I like to think I raise my eyes above the gutters of the daily headlines, I couldn’t help but notice that war has broken out in Europe and a new Western diplomatic sanctions regime has divided the world into Cold War era frontiers. The health crisis is almost forgotten, internet-trained health experts have morphed into military analysts (with painfully short memories) whilst new forms of emotional stimulus and exhibition are duly provided to those wearing their hearts on their fingertips.

That is not, which should go without saying, to deny the tragedy of war, but rather to highlight the doctrinaire reactions of those one might, if being charitable, imagine are well-meaning types ‘doing their part’ to help the victims of war through means of ostracising Russian people and culture. Across Western Europe and North America, Russian composers, authors, conductors, musicians, dancers and athletes have been ‘cancelled’ or asked to make political declarations by event managers or employers on pain of dismissal. It is an indictment of a society that parades tolerance and inclusion as its highest values to engage in these cruel, convenient and politically permitted displays of bigotry. Who is better placed to instruct young minds about autocracy and censorship than Dostoyevsky or Solzhenitsyn, having experienced exile and persecution for their writings? Alarmingly, it is their books and names that have been censured in a deeply ironic and Soviet form of ‘solidarity’.

During the Cold War, when there was a persistent threat of nuclear confrontation, art and sport were used as a bridge to overcome the differences of statesmen and military generals. People can learn to better understand their similarities and common humanity when brought together to share the joy of triumph and the sorrow of defeat, whether through the immediate display of a football match between opposing teams or the recital of an orchestra.

Soldiers play football during the 1914 truce
Gennady Rozhdestvensky at the 1968 London Promenade Concerts or Proms in London

I am reminded of Tadeusz Zieliński’s rejoinder in Our Debt to Antiquity (Bonfire Books, 2020) that it is through the apprehension of our cultural and historical past that we come to know each other and ourselves:

It dawned upon men that the history of the civilisation of each one of the modern nations formed a tiny rivulet, until Antiquity discharged its broad flood into it, bearing on its current all the ideas, including Christianity, which feed our mind at the present day.

Thus, if we adopt the historical attitude, we see that each one of us owns two mother countries: one the native land after which we call ourselves, the other Antiquity. To express this idea in a short formula, allow me to borrow the terms of the Greek theologians, who distinguished three component parts in a man: his body, soul, and spirit—σω̑μα, ψυχή, πνευ̑α—and to lay this down: our mother country, as regards our body and soul, is Russia for the Russians, Germany for the Germans, France for the French; but our spiritual mother country is for one and all—Antiquity. The link which connects and unites all European nations independently of their national and racial differences is their common descent from Antiquity.

The relatively short span of my ‘millennial’ life (a better generational term might be ‘millenarian’) has seen these walls come down from the East. Now they are being rebuilt, this time from the West. Our mission at Bonfire is to retrieve the forgotten or disprivileged aspects of our literary culture and bring them to back into our lives.

With that in mind I contend that no idea is so dangerous so as to evade the power of sunlight to expose its dangers. No smeared thinker or author is so reputationally ruinous so as to cause one’s eyes to retreat before his words or one’s tongue to shrivel in fear rather than pronounce his name. It is in confronting the discomfort of listening to the maligned and censured that we may be able to step over the inanity and mistruth of regime-approved ‘talking points’ and slogans and come to a true understanding of the other.

At risk of inviting a charge of melodrama, we may find in the coming years that we have much to learn from the samizdat publishers of the Soviet period, who facilitated the dissemination of dissident writing against the backdrop of the gulag. The power of the longer form printed book also lends itself to the exposition of truth as a bulwark against propaganda—brainwashing consists of short and constant bombardments and ‘nudges’, whilst a book or a novel demands that we put ourselves aside and listen to the author with all of our faculties.

High Speed Paintings: A Digital Exhibition

“We declare… a new beauty, the beauty of speed. A racing motor car… is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.” 

– Futurist Manifesto

Taking a detour from Heidelberg Australiana, this month’s digital exhibition looks to the dynamism and energy of the futurists, imbued with a liveliness imparted by the industrial machinery that had transformed Europe in the modern period. Although best known as being Italian, Futurismo quickly spread beyond Italy throughout Europe, and I have tried to include some of these lesser known works which use elements of the style whilst maintaining identifiable forms.

The Regatta, Stanley Cursiter (1913)

The Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, Giacomo Balla (1912)

The Lancer’s Charge, Umberto Boccioni (1916)

Cyclist, Natalia Goncharova (1913)

Aeroplane over Train, Natalia Goncharova (1913)

No Great Mischief by Alistair Macleod (1999)

Review by Lucas Smith

Published in 1999—the significance of which we will come back to—No Great Mischief is Nova Scotian author Alistair Macleod’s only novel. It is the story of a clan, whose members are known by their distinctive appearance—red hair, black eyes—and the stories they tell one another.

Driven from the Highlands after the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1749, the MacDonalds, or in the Gaelic language that they speak in diminished form amongst themselves, the Clann Chalum Ruaidh, find their way to Cape Breton Island, where their fortunes wax and wane. The novel flashes backwards and forward between the end of the Jacobite uprising and the mid 1990s. The title No Great Mischief refers to the English General James Wolfe’s attitude of nonchalance towards his Highlander allies in the Battle of Quebec, that it would be ‘no great mischief if they fall.’

The contemporary sections are narrated by the middle-aged Alexander MacDonald, who at the end of history has left Nova Scotia to become an orthodontist in Toronto, ‘trying to improve on God,’ as his grandmother puts it. Although he has made a success of himself in the city Alexander feels the pull of the past, especially as he visits his alcoholic older brother Callum in Toronto’s skid row. What has he sacrificed for the sake of modern success?

Alexander and Callum represent two options open to the deracinated modern man, deadbeat or yuppie. Both have their advantages of course, and both their drawbacks. What neither are, are fully effective men of the type that went over the top in the First World War or set sail on the open ocean with no certain destination. Callum pisses his days away in a cheap motel while Alexander is allowed to make his suburban nest as comfortable as possible without letting obsolete notions like blood and kin and honour get in the way. Both are dying slow deaths watching the old world slip away.

It wasn’t always this way, as Macleod makes clear in a long flashback. Just as Alexander is due to go off to dental school one of his other older brothers is killed in a mining accident. Four of Alexander’s older brothers, including Callum, all worked together in the mine in a kind of family unit. They are paid by the foot and take pride in competing with other teams. When his brother dies Alexander doesn’t hesitate to replace him in the crew as a matter of honour, deferring dental school until another replacement can be found.

At the mine there are groups of French Canadians, Irish, Newfoundlanders, Italians and Portuguese. In the closed all-male environment of the mine and the work camp, “the small intense divisions of Europe” come to the fore. Alexander reflects:

“It is hard to know why, in such circumstances, we spoke Gaelic more and more. Perhaps by being surrounded by other individual groups we felt our lives more intensely through what we perceived as our own language.”

In the mining camp there is fighting, music, story-telling, competition, bravado and labour. Alexander lives between two worlds: the domesticated and deracinated Toronto, itself a kind of deluxe ‘work-camp’ and the old world of his ancestors who fished, hunted, worked with their hands, and “looked after their own blood.”

There is a justly famous line in the uglier and more pessimistic writer Michel Houellebecq’s novel, Submission. When the main character contemplates the decline of France and his Jewish girlfriend’s decision to leave him to seek refuge with her clan, he tells her, “There is no Israel for me.”

For the MacDonalds there is an Israel, old Scotia. The welcome that Alexander’s twin sister Catherine receives when she visits Moidart—the place where Bonnie Price Charlie launched his doomed campaign for control of Britain—seems like something from a child’s fantasy story. Catherine meets a woman on the beach picking winkles, who recognise her by her hair and name:

            “‘You are from here,’ said the woman.

            “‘No,’ said my sister, ‘I’m from Canada.’

            “‘That may be,’ said the woman. ‘But you are really from here. You have just been away for a while.’”

A larger group of people descend on the woman’s house to meet Catherine, all speaking Gaelic:

“And I don’t even know what we said. The words themselves being more important than what they conveyed, if you know what I mean. And then all of us began to cry. All of us sobbing, either standing or sitting on our chairs in Moidart

“‘It is as if you had never left,’ said the old man. ‘Yes,’ said the others all at once, ‘as if you had never left.’”

This reunion scene, with its touch of myth and mysticism; its lack of temporal and facial detail, is a scene from the Old Testament more than a modern reality. Or perhaps it says something about the poverty of our experience that it seems so. Perhaps in 1999 such things were imaginable and probably there are similar stories arising from the similar groups of Scotsmen who went to Gippsland or Northern New South Wales.

There are many cracking stories in this book, told with beautifully simple writing. Macleod is a writer who puts one sentence in front of the other like a bricklayer, building a scene, a world, a life, methodically, with an eye for the essential elements of character, the small actions and repeated phrases that reveal so much about an ordinary person. He is a committed realist who wrings meaning from everyday lives and experience, narrative juxtaposition, dialogue and weather. There are no linguistic tricks and few pretensions. The book was written slowly over many years, mostly during Macleod’s summer holidays in a small cottage on Cape Breton Island, and it shows its lack of haste.

Near the end the novel becomes marred by the intrusion of bureau-speak, e.g. ‘disproportionate’ and a roll-call, a litany, of so-called “world-defining” news stories from 1968 that goes on for several pages. Things like the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and statistics from the Vietnam War seem especially out of place. The crashing through of historical time into the closed world of the novel is jarring and it’s baffling why Macleod felt that it was necessary or natural for him to include. The beautiful short stories for which he is justly famous carry little hint of civics or politics, except as a vague impersonal force drawing young people away from Cape Breton to the cities. Yet there is something profoundly off, like ketchup on filet mignon, about this listing of Current Events. Perhaps Macleod felt that Alexander’s eventual move to the professional suburbs required more context. However, this interruption to the flow of the novel, takes it out of the realm of convincing fiction, even as it makes the clannishness of the MacDonalds stand out. 

What rings through No Great Mischief, however, is Macleod’s deep love of his Nova Scotian own, however modest or flawed. In 1999 it seemed that liberation from the obligations of history and family would bear no consequences. Two decades later and the fairy tale of the end of history convinces no one, but who now has a clan to fall back on?

Read More