One of the legacies of Tony Abbott’s prime ministership will surely be his tendency to misspeak. His worst lapses need no repetition, no explaining. Most of us have his best-of unfortunately committed to memory, and the quotes tend to be self-evidently racist /sexist /homophobic /Islamophobic /xenophobic /blisteringly ignorant of everything from climate change science to the importance of land and country to First Australians. Really, he covered a lot of ground.
Naturally, nobody with a reasonable amount of literary education can fault the main argument of these estimable critics: that the quotidian is celebrated while the masters are silently passed over. Not so different was it in the time of Thomas Browne. And it may be helpful to remember that no less an eminence than André Gide rejected the manuscript of Swann’s Way. The history of literature is replete with such mistakes and missed opportunities.
During the recent Melbourne International Film Festival, I had an interesting discussion about whether genre films can ever deal with important social issues in a way that is not titillating or exploitative. One example of a genre film that does, shown at this year’s MIFF, is Peter Weir’s 1977 film, The Last Wave. The Internet Movie Database classifies The Last Wave as a ‘drama/mystery/thriller’ but it is also laced with supernatural/occult tropes popular in many horror films of the seventies. It’s a story about weather and the climate, in a way that can now be viewed as a remarkably prescient.
Consider the most powerful arguments in favour of defunding and deregulating the tertiary sector. A university education is an investment in oneself: it grants new skills and knowledge that will make one more employable and boost one’s future earnings. As such, it is only fair that students are made to bear all or most of the costs of this investment, because they will be the beneficiaries. Further, look at the statistics regarding those accessing higher education: the privileged are overrepresented across our universities, and in our relatively prestigious Group of Eight institutions in particular.
This rush to reclaim and reposition national ‘values’ and ‘culture’ is peculiarly context free. Such statements create the strategic impression of action and leadership, but also conveniently skate over deeper cultural and political issues of how vulnerability to violence is compounded by intersections of social class, race and ethnicity. By invoking the often-repeated claim that domestic violence transcends all social class boundaries, neoliberal politicians effectively avoid responsibility for creating a ‘lean and mean’ policy environment that makes some women more vulnerable to abuse.
In the acknowledgements of Foreign Soil, I credit Francesca Rendle-Short, Sam Twyford-Moore and Paddy O’Reilly, the judges of the Victorian Premiers Award for an unpublished manuscript: who in selecting Foreign Soil, made the bravest of decisions where others may well not have. This acknowledgement was carefully and painstakingly worded: what Indyk said recently in his Sydney Review of Books article about the commercial element of literary prizes is true, at least in part. Nobody wants a book or manuscript to win a prize and not be published or sell well.
A few weeks ago, Radio National’s Life Matters featured a discussion on the latest refugee crisis, with a focus on the emotional response evoked by the photograph of the drowned Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi. While a couple of panellists – and most callers – called for an empathetic response that extended beyond politics, one of the interviewees, sociologist Klaus Neumann, suggested that an emotional reaction is likely to be fleeting, and that we need to go deeper.
I live in the US now, and watch with a growing sense of fear and horror as women’s rights to reproductive care are gradually, methodically, stripped away by the states. Abortion clinics are closed; women are made to wait unreasonable periods of time and travel impossible distances; women in some states are forced to undergo an ultrasound before they can get an abortion, which is not very different from being raped with a thing they euphemistically call a wand, with its magic powers of showing you your own insides.
Kanye West’s speech at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards was lengthy, meandering and scattered, at best. At times he was humble, particularly as he stumbled through an expression of nuanced regret over his infamous interruption of Taylor Swift. Invariably, however, he swung back to the heightened dignity that he is so well-known and oft criticised for. There were glimpses of profundity, though often followed by the address ‘bro!’ perhaps scuttling the likelihood of some viewers to take his comments seriously.
Despite, or perhaps because of all this, I don’t think anyone saw that bombshell coming.