This is a review of The White Review No. 9 by Tristan Foster.


1. This is not a review.

2. The White Review, an arts and culture quarterly launched in 2011 and based in London, is the most stylish of literary journals. White pages, white space, hard black type – it is the literary equivalent of an art gallery in the rough end of town, the icy glow of halogen lamps in the gallery's ceiling keeping the grimy street corner lit through the night, moths dinking off the plate glass window.

3. People love to couple style with substance, or lack thereof, in the way everyone from cooking show hosts to executives in corporate boardrooms love to fucking repeat the mantra Less is more. It's a silly pairing, like respect for one is diminished when it is lacking the other, particularly when the former is missing the latter. Please. As we invest more and more in the gloss and pace of the superficial, less of a shit is given about substance anyway. (A magical quality does, however, rise in something when style has substance, or vice versa. But whatever – I think people just like the alliteration, the feel of the words in the mouth.)

3. (a) It could be argued that the seriousness with which The White Review takes itself is evidence of its substance, that substantial art and literature, by its nature, requires seriousness.

(b) One could argue the argument noted above can be knocked over like a domino once the contents of the journal are interrogated.

4. The White Review is the most stylish of literary journals and they are deadly serious about what they do. You don't even need to hold it to know this; visit and the seriousness with which it takes literature is on display for all to see. Literature in translation - a subject which is only ever treated seriously - is something that The White Review is particularly partial to.

5. I recently re-read Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Deep in one of his footnotes to 'Octet', David Foster Wallace notes his desire to make the pop quizzes that constitute or were supposed to constitute 'Octet' both grotesquely funny but also grotesquely serious. This is an insight into the overarching Hideous Men project, but also, maybe, to the purposes of modern literature.

6 (a). My copy of The White Review No. 9 had things stuffed in it. When I held it at the spine and shook it, a pink card with the face of a chimpanzee printed on it fell out, as well as a small pamphlet titled 'Contents'.

(b). The dust cover of The White Review No. 9 unfolds into a poster-sized print of 'The Secret Map' by Raphaël Garnier.

(c). 'Chess Review Storyboard' by Marcel Dzama is a removable comic of the draft of a storyboard for a play that features people dressed as chess pieces and stage directions that are at times too small to read. It's close to my favourite thing in The White Review No. 9.

7. (a) I've said before (maybe even on this website, I don't actually remember) that literary journals are strange things. While I don't think celebrities are the primary audience of celebrity tabloids, I do believe that people who read celebrity tabloids have a secret hunger to be a part of the spectacle. I think this is the same with literary journals – that a great majority of their readers also have a secret, gnawing desire to be in their pages. This makes for a pretty small and particular readership. But let's agree that maybe this is just the way the world works now, that way we can move on to the next point I want to make which is that literary journals are, by their nature, ugly, unruly things that are not easily categorised – and so not easily sold. And they continue to get away with it! Stories and poetry and essays and art by different people you've likely never heard of. Why would you buy such a thing? I don't believe they're interrogated nearly enough.

(b). But rules – in writing, in sport, in everything – are really only a facade we erect to hide the fact that there is no order. They help marketers market and they help umpires ump and they arguably stop the fabric of society from being torn apart. But there are no rules really. Not in nature, not in the manmade world. Civilisation is still a disaster and yet we keep at it.

(c). Literary journals are maybe, then, useful for two reasons. The first: as a sort of acknowledgment that the universe, including literature, is and should be disorderly. They are not only one thing. Fuck your order, they say – or, in my mind, should. Secondly, they are a very specific form of entertainment, and entertainment should either insulate us from the depressing facts mentioned above or it should confront us with those facts and help us navigate our way through them. Aristotle talks about this a bit in Poetics: tragedy as an art form aestheticises a difficult experience to help us get through the tragedies in our own lives. Tragedy aids in purifying our emotions, honing them. "Do you want to go down to the pits of yourself all alone?" Anne Carson writes in her Preface to Grief Lessons. "Not much. What if an actor could do it for you? Isn’t that why they are called actors? They act for you. You sacrifice them to action." Literary journals pull together writing which provides light in the dark and all that – or just some cracking, original stuff to read in the gaps between living your life.

(d). I've said before that in this age of the short attention span, literary magazines – publications where the emerging writer shares the page with the established, the avant garde with the orthodox –  are possibly more appropriate than ever as they offer suites of poems and fiction short enough for you to read on your commute but long enough to give you a sample of what an author you may not have encountered before is capable of.

(But then maybe that's always been the function of a lit mag, that it has always had a certain freedom, and I should stop talking about a subject I know little of right here.)

8. E is for essay, F is for fiction, P is for poetry.

9. I can't help feeling that living on the coast of a country obsessed with water and the ocean by extension desensitises us somewhat to the idea that pools can somehow be sinister but there was a pool in the apartment complex I grew up in and I haven't read much Ballard and I've written some failed fiction about pools, so I really enjoyed the essay 'The Drained Pool' by Hunter Braithwaite.

10. "That's why he wrote it. Cos he wanted this guy in like Copenhagen in the 1830s or something ridiculous. And the guy was like no. I'm not a homo. I'm getting married. So Hans Christian Anderson was like, fine. I'm going to write a story about it instead and make like a shitload of money."

– 'Eat My Heart Out' by Zoe Pilger. Pilger’s piece, an extract from her novel of the same name, bubbles, is thumping, alive.

11. The interview with Vladimir Sorokin introduced me to a writer I was till that point unacquainted with but which I now want to read, and soon, starting with The Queue. It was also pleasant getting acquainted with German artist and activist Gustav Metzger. Metzger, an anti-artist of sorts, is one of the last left from an era when artists were quite happy wrecking artworks and generally being nuisances instead of making money. The piece therefore gains special importance for being something like an interview with the last black rhino or Tasmanian tiger, or some other species a death away from extinction.

12 (a). I work near one of the biggest "development projects" in the country. At lunch, businessmen can be seen standing along its fence with their hands behind their back surveying the cranes and tractors and earth movers and the workmen and women working. It makes me think of proud grandfathers standing by the rail line with a grandson in their arms and counting the carriages of slow-passing trains, and that these men were once those grandsons. This is what is called to mind when I see the term "psychogeography".

(b). Does Patrick Langley actually use the term "psychogeography"? I can't recall.

(c). "We aren’t living through this moment so much as playing our part in a choreographed scene, a diorama of urban trespass."

13. The White Review and other "little magazines" coming out of the UK and Ireland are doing some exciting things. You really should think about checking them out. 


The White Review No. 10 was released this month. This review is of The White Review No. 9, which can be found here


Tristan Foster is a writer from Sydney. He twitters here and writes here

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