Academic journal article Antipodes

"An Intelligent Conversation of a Structured Kind" with Antoni Jach

Academic journal article Antipodes

"An Intelligent Conversation of a Structured Kind" with Antoni Jach

Article excerpt

Born in Melbourne in 1956 of Polish and Australian descent, ANTONI JACH has authored three published novels: The Weekly Card Game (1994), The Layers of the City (1999), and the recently published Napoleon's Double (2007). His first and fourth novels, Dina Club (1989), which was shortlisted for the Vogel Prize, and Travelling Companions (2001), are as yet unpublished. His half-completed sixth novel is set in Rome. He also has published a book of poetry, An Erratic History ( 1988) and has written two plays recently: Miss Furr and Miss Skeene, plays I & 11. He is the Melbourne editor of Ivor Indyk's HEAT literary journal. His latest art project is the completion of a cycle of oil paintings. Jach currently lives in Melbourne with his wife, Australian novelist Sallie Muirden, and their daughter, Hayley, and son, Oliver. It was on a sunny spring afternoon that Antoni Jach had chosen to be interviewed in the courtyard of Jimmy Watson's, his favorite wine-bar, located in Lygon Street, Carlton.


Jean-François Vemay : I believe The Weekly Card Game is a real tour de force. Trying to entertain using One. subject of boredom is a risky challenge few writers would dare take up in an increasingly market'Oriented publishing industry. The comic effect is mainly achieved through a terse but very styUsh prose sprinkled with deadpan humor, the action being revealed through the eyes of a self' effacing focalizer. What is more, Napoleon's Double has been defined by Judith Armstrong as "a fictional chronicle-a series of 'historical' events recounted chronologically, artlessly and without any concern for climax, denouement, or even characterization." Do you hold anything against the conventional action-packed novel dominated by an outstanding central character?

Antoni Jach: It's a good question. I'm not interested in writing a conventional novel, nor am I interested in writing a conventional Australian realist novel. I see myself as a late modernist novelist. I like modernist and Zl^-century latemodernist novels. I'm interested in fiction that is reflective, meditative, and philosophical. ... I like novels that are technically challenging. I like novels that reveal the novelmaking art in the exposition of the novel itself-in the same sense that if we look at abstract expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock, then his paintings are simultaneously paintings and a revelation of what a painting is. One of my concerns in Napoleon's Double is the issue of the difficulty of representation. How does one as a novelist represent adequately? I think this is a fundamental issue for the early modernist writers from the 1910s and the 1920s and also for 21^-CCnOHy late-modernist writers as well. I look to a great writer like W.G. Sebald, who is also concerned with the problematics of trying to represent adequately. One of the major issues in his work is the need to represent via words and images, but how can one adequately represent anything at all? So the desire to represent scenes of life with words is there but the means are limited. I feel exactly the same with my own novels. I have the desire to capture a type of reality about what happened to diose fictional conscripts who went with Napoleon to Egypt and ended up on Baudin's expedition to Australia, while being fully aware of the difficulty of trying to translate that "reality" into a novel.

J.-F. V: Is it a coincidence that this debut novel, with its prominent themes of change and changelessness, was published at the time of the re-emergence of the Republican debate in Australia? Do you feel-to take up your metaphor in the concluding chapter-that Australia is some grand-scale chess game with "no republican spirit" and "an exaggerated respect for royalty"?

A.J.: I think in a way it was coincidental that The Weekly Card Game was published about the same time. It was a novel I had wanted to write for about 5 years; but on the other hand, you do, as a novelist, pick up the Zeitgeist, die spirit of die times, and so I was conscious of diose issues. …

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