No Document by Anwen Crawford
I place my review copy of Anwen Crawford’s No Document on the ledge under the mirror at my hairdresser appointment. The book is full of coloured tags and my hairdresser, who has just told me she was born in the same town as Chekhov, takes note. I still have a handful of pages left, I admit to her, and I’m waiting for something that I know will not come.
My own statement catches me by surprise. It rings true but throws my hairdresser off track. No Document is a poetic book-length essay that makes use of collage and repetition, it does not contain or enclose a narrative but entangles Crawford’s grief for the loss of her friend, art-collaborator and comrade in the narrative of several vexed histories – our relationship with animals, the disappearing Sydney of their youth, Australia in the age of mandatory detention, and the horizon of revolution during the perpetual brutality of late capitalism. In this context Crawford asks not merely who are we, but what is ‘we’?
It is a book of melancholies, I say to my hairdresser, of approaching forty, of recalling twenty, of losing your comrade at thirty. Wistful? she asks. No no, I protest. To read this book is to witness a writer’s struggle to elegise her friendship against the spectre of sentimentality. As one of Australia’s sharpest critics of music, art and pop culture, Crawford will not, I know, write a wistful book. In her writing the feeling of loss is not inert, but, powered by the text’s symphonic form it swirls with potential. In the few pages left there will be no easy way out, no revelation and nothing neat but a becoming future. In Chekhov we face death, wasted potential and the atrocity of history but must resist bitterness and vengeance. Instead we must learn how to pursue justice. In Crawford, one of my coloured tags marks the line, ‘what do we do / when we bring the fences down?’