Brentley Frazer (b. 1972) is an Australian author of creative nonfiction, literary fiction, and poetry.
Brentley was awarded a PhD (creative writing) from Griffith University in 2017.
His first book, a novelised memoir: Scoundrel Days (UQP, 2017) was described as “a gritty, Gen-X memoir, recounting wild escapades into an under-culture of drugs and violence and sex” (ABC Radio National).
The Australian newspaper compared Frazer’s ability to shock, surprise and unsettle with that of Marcel Duchamp: “Scoundrel Days provided us with that rarest of literary treats, a good dose of the shocking. This is dirty realism at its dirtiest”.
He is currently a sessional academic teaching creative writing at Griffith University.
He lives in Brisbane.
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REVIEWS OF SCOUNDREL DAYS
Scoundrel Days: A memoir: NEWTOWN REVIEW OF BOOKS
In Scoundrel Days Frazer puts the eye of god back where it belongs – inside the human skull, where experience processes into memory through conscious intelligence. The nascent poet looks his would-be assailants straight in the eye, bearing witness to their hypocrisy, while they feel the ire of an angry god accusing them of their sin. Having achieved escape velocity, Brentley runs flat-out into his future without a backward glance, which he knows from his reading could turn you to stone or worse, condemn you to the underworld. The archetypal fool gets the hell out of there, armed with only heart and soul and a newly acquired moral compass pointing in all directions away from the teachings of the cult. Sex and drugs and rock and roll beckon and he embarks at full tilt on a quixotic quest for his artistic holy grail: to become a poet.
From the relatively dreamlike juxtapositions of childhood experiences, Brentley’s adolescence transforms into a state of hyper-alertness, with no time to pause for reflection. He refuses to acknowledge morality so readers can only assess his behaviour against their own moral compass. This cracking narrative pace creates a constant state of unfolding suspense. Apart from the few flashes of self-knowledge that come to Brentley about his own behaviour, and a couple of comments he makes regarding the way others treat their parents or partners and friends, Frazer leaves any judgement up to the reader as his concupiscent narrator engages in the ever-present act of forming meaning from the chaos of interactions that confront him. Both reader and writer look out from inside Scoundrel Days, from inside the consciousness of the unreflective narrator.
Scoundrel Days is the subject of Frazer’s PhD thesis, which should become the gold-standard how-to manual on writing clear, utterly active prose. He made several attempts and discarded many drafts to create this literary memoir. The sheer inventiveness of description arrived at through the sharp focus on reality leaves no room for clichés. His beautifully modulated rhythms make the book a joy to read, but the technical accomplishment of the work goes way beyond pace and precision. FULL REVIEW ⇲
Baudelaire of the 21st century. On acid.
Language is a virus. Language infects. Language alienates people and kills their authenticity. Language cleaves and generates repression. Language is the basic mechanism of subordination to the ruling power. Brentley Frazer, Australian poet, painter, photographer, Gonzo journalist and the founder and editor of literary magazine Retort Magazine, is all too aware of these roles and functions of language. But still. In his works the language is surely at least up to a certain level maintaining the characteristics mentioned above, but it is, nevertheless, becoming a tool of rebellion against the said, on the exploitation based principles. One could say that the language in Frazer’s poetry becomes a tool of exposing the true nature of postmodern relationships of power. Frazer is systematically and effectively using the discourse of oppressors in the fight against themselves.
Frazer considers the modern world as a sick reality where individuals are reduced to the status of sitcom characters and where the basic characteristic is the dominant role of the rules that are dictated by the interests of mega-corporations and the categorical imperative of greed. The author agrees with Phillip K. Dick (whose influences are highly noticeable in Frazer’s poetry) that modern society is largely based on the principle of imprisonment, where the prisoners have never known freedom and are consequently convinced that they are actually independent, free and unsubdued. With the more or less sophisticated help of all-permeating propaganda carried out by the family, school and media, they are brutally interpellated and deeply infatuated with the system of lies and half-truths to the point that they are voluntarily and without any thought submitting themselves to the the state-sponsored brainwashing and uncompromising sanctioning of everything and everyone who dares to cross the line of subordination and mediocrity.
Frazer interprets the modern man more or less in the meaning of fragmented pieces of nothingness, surrounded by a collection of illusions, he is perceiving him primarily as a product of evolution, which has deviated from its way, as a robot, programmed to obey, as a potential which could have been, but was not realized, as a digital insect that is asleep way overdue and that should be immediately woken up and faced with reality which is situated somewhere at the intersection of Bentham’s Panopticon, Zamjatin’s glass paradise and Debord’s society of the spectacle. The constitutive elements of the modern human are not much more than a castrated freedom, emotional mutilation and intellectual disability, whereas the modern society is more or less just a parade of enslaved and manipulated sheep who have voluntarily enchained themselves, as well as failed miserably in terms of pursuing individuality and realization of creative pulses. Frazer’s poetry is an intense criticism of political, economic, social and cultural hierarchy, it is a frontal attack on mechanized and sterile hell, which is characterized by the significantly paternalistic political mantra, epidemic consumerism and sophisticated and perpetual raping with morality that is based on the accounting books. Frazer is also not growing any particular illusions about the Left and its potential for taking over the role of the bearers of change. His works give a clear knowledge that this is a man who has seen and knows a little bit too much to be able to afford such naiveté. It is all too perfectly clear to him that all left-wing theory and practice, despite its false pretences, ultimately do not offer much more than only eternal critical analysis of history as false fabrication of centers of power, analysis, which sooner or later always overlooks the fact that revolutions only bring a new master, whereas the mechanisms of exploitation remain in the long run more or less the same.
Frazer was once described as the Salvador Dali of written word. On the other side, Dazed & Confused defined him as Baudelaire of the 21st century on acid. The two descriptions (which do not hold much distinguishment between each other), were in all likelihood related to his unconventionality, radicalism, aggression, schizophrenia, non-adaptability and sublimity, to the continuing themes of hallucinogenic scenes and pornographic moments, to the bizarre mix of elements of neo-symbolism and post-romanticism, wrapped in the form of hypertext poetry that due to its atmosphere and the cut-up technique it strongly reminds of Burroughs and occasionally Thompson.
Frazer’s poetry otherwise looks as if it was written by someone going through comedown which is relenting and mutating into cynicism without bitterness. As far as anger is still present, it is more or less subtle, even though it is periodically still noticeable in the form of an allergy to the acute apathy, obedience, intellectual impotence and voluntary enslavement of modern society and man as such. All together it slightly reminds of Dick and Kafka, although the atmosphere is not as terribly stuffy and hopeless. By all means is Frazer deeply disillusioned by the man and its turn-out, but he has, nevertheless, not entirely given up upon his ability to change.
It goes without saying that the truth in a modern society is wrongly diagnosed and constituted mostly out of the perverse ideology, with the dominance of the law of average that cripples all the others, but there is still hope for the man to wake up from the omnipresent nightmare he has signed himself up for. The key to awakening is the breaking of all old illusions, giving up on the blind faith in progress and connivance of the true nature of reality that surrounds us, a reality that is nothing but the world of lies and simulacra, Valium and Vicodin, in which a man is permanently abandoned by God and brutally left to himself and himself only.
When Frazer’s poetry goes in the direction of intimacy, it finds itself somewhere at the intersection of Breton, Rimbaud, Baudelaire and Ian Curtis.
Whatever the formulation, there is always a focus on the magic of the moment, caught up in a wave of mostly subtly expressed regret that something could have happened, however, it did not occur. All the lies you have told, when you meant to tell the truth.
Poetry serves to Brentley a bit as a drug, a bit as a political statement, but mostly and especially as a therapy. It does not have much of Aristotle’s cognitive function nor any particular epiphanic value. In any case, his poetry can be described as a method and mechanism of existing, but it is primarily and mainly still a coping technique or should we say, a treatment of a sick mind.
The same could probably also be said for the audience.
TRIBUNA MAGAZINE June 2012
(translated from the Slovenian)