Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 23, 2021

No Document (2021), by Anwen Crawford

The curious title of this short prose work remains obscure until about halfway, when—as throughout the book—empty space is used to emphasise with devastating impact, the concept of the void.  On page 38, there is this:

No collectables, no commodities.

There is nothing else on the page. On page 52, there is this:

                                                                                        from our
hands, our fumbling and clumsy hands, you write.

But on page 67:

no document can make you manifest.

And it’s true.  Nothing we can keep or create will bring back the dead.

This is the blurb from the publisher’s website:

No Document is an elegy for a friendship cut short prematurely by death. The memory of this friendship becomes a model for how we might relate to others in sympathy, solidarity and rebellion. At once intimate and expansive, Anwen Crawford’s book-length essay explores loss in many forms: disappeared artworks, effaced histories, abandoned futures. From the turmoil of grief and the solace of memory, her perspective embraces histories of protest and revolution, art-making and cinema, border policing, and especially our relationships with animals. No Document shows how love and resistance echo through time.

Anwen Crawford is best known for her writing as a critic, but here she draws on her background as a zine-maker and visual artist, and her training in poetry, to develop a new way of writing about the past, using a symphonic method of composition and collage. No Document is an urgent, ground-breaking work of non-fiction that reimagines the boundaries that divide us – as people, nations and species – and asks how we can create forms of solidarity that endure.

Neither an essay nor poetry and yet both, this book is filled with shards of grief.  It is rebellious, and sometimes angry, recalling shared moments of activism in protests and marches, blockades and picket lines amid the deliberate conflation of dissent with terrorism by the ruling class that still exists:

what might it be
to live

without the wage / without the state / without
the penitentiaries /to be

unafraid / to be / freely
indebted to each other. (p.64)

Images of blood and slaughter are references to Blood of the Beasts (Le Sang des bêtes), a 1949 French documentary by Georges Franju. It contrasted the suburbs of Paris with scenes from a slaughterhouse.  This violence is also threaded through the references to the deliberate impermanence of the art they made.

When the bombing of Iraq began some dolt with a megaphone admonished a bunch of us for jumping up and down as we stood outside Town Hall waiting for the protest to begin to move / on Gadigal country. This march will be disciplined, they said, and we said — we taunted — discipline’s for armies.  Nothing we made was meant to last.  Nothing we made has lasted for as long as what we made by making together.  (p. 85)

There is some hope:

Do I think that art can change the world?  No and yes.  We can’t end work — or war — with pencils, or by arguing for better television shows.  But there are not movements towards freedom without what must be imagined, and perhaps can only be imagined: I believe that. Another way to put this would be to say that I believe in all of us because of all who have imagined like this in the act of remaking a street or a room through some gesture of their hands, by writing or painting or playing, no matter how tentative the gesture or how ephemeral the evidence. (p.113)

This work is dense with allusions to artists, writers, film-makers and musicians, and no doubt I have missed many of them, so I found this review by Alix Beeston at the Sydney Review of Books illuminating.

There is also this review by Cher Tan at InDaily, which speaks to the frustration of incompleteness in the text.  I don’t share that frustration, but I like the way she has summarised the treatment of history in No Document.

Author: Anwen Crawford
Title: No Document
Designed by Jenny Grigg
Publisher: Giramondo Publishing, 2021
ISBN: 9781925818611, pbk.,151 pages
Source: Giramondo Prose subscription


  1. This sounds like my kind of book. I’m glad you have included links to other reviews because I’ve just ordered it, it has been a long time since I’ve bought something from Giramondo. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel quite confident that it’s your kind of book:) Giramondo do have very interesting books!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What an unusual bit of writing. I’ve not seen this before.


    • Yes, I’ve tagged it ‘experimental’ because it’s so different, and it’s experimenting with writing a ‘document’ that isn’t one!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My interest is piqued. I do like efforts at subverting our literary expectations. So will check it out.


    • It takes a little while before the fragments come together — I’ve called them shards because they are piercing — but after a few pages the brain begins to gather the fragments together, especially if you’re the sort of person (and you are) who pays attention to dissent and the reasons for it.


  4. Sounds fascinating Lisa – I love experimental writing so will look out for this! I don’t think I would have lamented the fragmentary nature, as it seems to be an essential part of this book.


    • It should be available in the UK because Giramondo have teamed up with publishers there to offer their subscriptions as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I really like the sound of this. I enjoy fragmentary writing where impressions build and readers have to fill in the gaps. As Kaggsy says, it sounds as if the style is very much a part of what is being said, and not just for effect.


    • It’s a bit like visual art in galleries (and hopefully also on domestic walls) where the empty space around it gives definition and power to the art.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hah, it’s kinda hilarious that the other reviewer is criticizing the writer for choosing to have the structure of the book reflect the theme of the book; obviously this is not the kind of writing that suits every single reader (what kind of writing is that, anyway) but that does not mean that the writing is defective or lacking, just not a match for that reader’s taste.


  7. True, though it’s possibly just a lack of experience. Publishing here (and hence reviewing) is being held to account for not being ‘diverse’ enough, and the ‘old guard’ is being displaced by new faces. But while I don’t know this reviewer’s work at all because I don’t read any of the publications she’s written for, from visiting her website’s About page, it’s also possible that it’s a deliberate intent to be ‘edgy’.
    Which in some circles, *chuckle* does not mean up to speed on experimental kinds of writing, but being up to speed on a different kind of daring — which gives licence to run their own agenda through the review by being overtly critical about identity politics issues, i.e. calling out what they perceive as ‘missing’ from the work because the writer hasn’t attended to #PickYourOwnIssue/s. Hence the reviewer’s objection to the centrality of the author over a refugee that she’s writing about, rather than recognising that grief is a fog through which all thoughts and memories are filtered, and that fragments do not necessarily allow for the sort of thinking that the reviewer calls for and authenticity IMO should take precedence.
    It’s easy to poke fun at this, and right-wing culture warriors do, but provided it’s fair comment rather than cruel, I don’t mind reviewers calling out a lack of sensitivity or awareness, though (given this author’s obvious left-wing activism), calling out a single ‘lapse’ seems a bit harsh. For example, a contemporary novel that uses only ‘Anglo’ names and entirely heterosexual relationships *might* tell you something about the author’s cultural milieu. It might also just mean that the author is worried about being attacked for cultural appropriation or tokenism, but either way the novel might seem a bit ‘vanilla’… unless — and it’s a very important ‘unless’ — it is tackling some significant issue where the characterisation is subservient to the bigger picture.


  8. I wonder why I missed this … you have added to my intrigue about this work.


    • Don’t worry, I haven’t kept up with everyone lately either….

      Liked by 1 person

  9. […] Anwen Crawford’s No document (book-length essay): “superb … resonant power, about grief, politics, ephemerality and art” (Lucy Treloar); “sophisticated, moving lament” (Bernadette Brennan); “a striking collage-like essay written in a spirit of lucid grief and righteous anger” (James Ley); “so beguiling I read it twice” (Zora Simic); (Declan Fry) (Lisa’s review) […]


  10. […] Anwen Crawford, No document (memoir) (Lisa’s review) […]


  11. […] Anwen Crawford, No document (memoir) (Lisa’s review) […]


  12. […] Lisa @ANZLitLovers […]


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