Recently, the federal government has been fighting to vindicate having detained a five-year-old Iranian girl in horrendous conditions on the island of Nauru. Worse still, these same politicians are contemplating returning this child who has been diagnosed with a serious mental illness – who right now is in detention in Darwin while her father is receiving medical care – to the very location where this illness developed, and where it will inevitably deteriorate.
After the Second World War, a related genre of narratives of captivity emerged. These follow the same pattern of youthful innocence and immersion in war, but there they diverge to a place where the individual is subject to deliberate abuse, loses all power but must keep going. The pattern shifts from the epic of battle to the journey of quest, where the hero is trapped in a slough of despondency. At its lightest, this genre comprises heroic tales of capture, resistance and escape. At its strongest, it includes memoirs of the Holocaust, and later the Gulags, where the life of the individual lacks even the desperate coherence found in soldiers’ accounts.
Words are added to dictionaries when their usage gains currency. Merriam-Webster advises that a new word must have ‘enough citations to show that it is widely used’. The Macquarie says ‘to earn a place in a dictionary, a word has to prove that the community at large accepts it’. This isn’t something the linguistic powers-that-be take lightly. ‘Twerk’ didn’t make it in because an Oxford editor went to a Big Freedia show and decided to (literally) spread the good word.
5:30pm Thursday 4 June
Vic Books (Kelburn Campus), Wellington
Come celebrate Overland‘s first-ever edition dedicated exclusively to the work of some of their closest writerly neighbours. Guest edited by Giovanni Tiso, Jolisa Gracewood and Robert Sullivan.
‘I think it would also be fair to say that we should have made more of a fuss at the time.’ It was April 2015. In a brightly lit Australian National University lecture theatre, Seven West Media’s Bridget Fair was lamenting the passage of a terrorism law. Depending on how you count such things, it was either the sixty-fifth or sixty-sixth anti-terror law passed by Australia’s parliament since 2001. This one had far-reaching implications. Among other things, it criminalised the conduct of journalism.