Radical And Progressive

The past few months have been interesting here on the Overland blog. We’ve seen a few flare ups. One of the largest was over the nostalgic racism of the black-face disgrace on Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday. And now we have a controversy regarding misogyny in music. I always find it surprising when we hear so many of the responding voices asking for moderation and counselling for acceptance. Overland is known as the most radical of the literary mags and the banner proclaims a dedication to progressive culture. Apparently many feel that should include tolerance of racial ridicule and disregard for women or their concerns.

Mainstream media is filled with these porous moral codes. There’s any number of magazines, newspapers and blogging forums where all forms of racism and misogyny are not only accepted, but surreptitiously encouraged. The Australian posted a piece regarding a suspected terrorist a few weeks ago, and there were over a hundred blog comments, suggesting everything from the deportation of entire families and communities to death sentences en masse. As repugnant as these forums are, or destructive this kind of hatemongering journalism, we need that kind of freedom of expression for a healthy culture. A counterbalance to these kinds of extremes is rarely found. Overland being tugged back to the centre does not serve mainstream media any better, nor does it benefit the breadth or health of Australian culture.

When I read Crawford’s article I enjoyed the bravery of the piece. Taking on Nick Cave isn’t easily done, especially now as he towers up into an international icon and national treasure to Australia. It’s to be expected that there would be many who’d object, and take Crawford to task for exposing some of the darker aspects of this particular national jewel. What’s astounding is the virulence of the attack on Crawford’s right to question Cave at all, in any forum, and even in this one, a self-declared space for Progressive culture.

We can determine what we mean when we declare ourselves radical in our politics or progressive in our thoughts. The opportunity arises many times a week for most of us. Conformity is the name of the game and not many are going risk jobs or status fighting for unpopular causes like whether a racial joke at work was a little off-colour or whether some of Nick Cave’s songs occasionally sicken us with the repetitious stabbing, raping and psychopathic prancing. We determine what those principles mean to us when a woman tells us that she has experienced forms of assault and degradation in this music. We define those principles in how we choose to respond to another woman telling us of the pain of racial ridicule.

So perhaps we need to ask ourselves what we think it means to look for radical ways of thinking and pushing our culture forwards. The conservative will look for comfort in the past, when racial mockery wasn’t a concern and we could comfortably mock people we worked with for their religion, ethnicity, or whatever other cultural differentiation we found annoying or laughable. When men could easily remark on the features of a woman’s desirability or talk of rape as though it was never more than a fiction or lyrical trope. Because this felt free and enjoyable, especially to men and the racial majority. But to push for a progressive culture means to open up these age old modes of behaviour and ask ourselves if we’re capable of something better.

Alec Patric

AS Patric is the award-winning author of The Rattler & other stories (Spineless Wonders, 2011), Las Vegas for Vegans (Transit Lounge, 2012) and Bruno Kramzer (Finlay Lloyd, 2013).

More by Alec Patric ›

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  1. Alec, as always, yours is a voice of absolute reason, with an argument thorough, carefully presented and leaving no doubt as to the kind of forum Overland ought to be, and the place it ought to be striving to reclaim at the helm of progressive Australian writing.

  2. Alec, this piece really articulates what Overland should be. It sadness me also because I think we have a long way to go. Calling a woman sexless for giving her opinion is uncalled for. It’s great to have Overland to discuss culture progressively but we shouldn’t overstep the line. If anything these discussions highlight the problems we are still having in our racist, sexist society. Whether art is contributing to that or not, I’m still not sure.

  3. Thanks guys.

    Koraly – Regarding writing/reading and the political, there’s a quote I like from Jane Smiley, who suggests it’s ‘an act of humanity.’ Something like ‘The Death of Bunny Munro’ defies that description, but what it essentially means to me, is that we take the time to leave our ego-unit at the door and experience life lived at large. Not just us and our concerns. Not just our vanity or fear. If we commit to read a book, we take on an intimacy with others that moves beyond most forms of love. We care about the author’s hurt feelings, his daydreams, and all manner of things that we usually wouldn’t spare a moment for. Why? Maybe because we’re always looking for ways to reach past the compression of the singularity of ‘me.’ Even a character like Bunny Munro.

    The other thing about writing, and I think it goes towards some of the questions you’ve been asking → there’s no hiding in fiction. The writer reveals himself in every disguise. No matter the characters created. No matter the storyline. If you see yourself as little more than a meaningless animal, falling into rut at any opportunity, then that’s what you’ll depict in your fiction. In many of his songs, Cave has perceived deeper forms of connection and sacrifice, but essentially the world he lives in is a monstrous sphere of brutality and destruction, waste and entropy. If you look at the planet, you’ll notice that he’s not far wrong actually.

    Your question is whether art contributes to that kind of world or not. The pessimists call themselves realists, and feel like they own the world because they see it as it really is. They feel they have the courage to take in this catastrophic vision. Then there’s another kind of writer, who can see that the same thing and looks for ways to deal with it. I think Christos Tsiolkas is often racist and misogynistic, but I also think he’s looking for solutions. There’s an inborn hope that through understanding it, he can find a way to release himself from its oppression. So a writer can never really hide in a book. They expose themselves in every feature and detail of their beliefs and feelings.

  4. Really agree with this. I hate how people who oppress others, like racists and homophobes, fall back on this freedom of speech shit and how they shouldn’t be attack for their foul views when what they do actually takes freedom of speech from the very people they think they should have the right to attack.

  5. Some of our greatest lessons are learnt through argument but nothing is learnt when two (or one of two) opposing par(y)ies reduces the argument to insults, slander and discreditation.

  6. “When men could easily remark on the features of a woman’s desirability or talk of rape as though it was never more than a fiction or lyrical trope.”

    Does this mean that a man can never talk about the features of a woman’s desirability? Is it always sexist for me, as a heterosexual male to talk about the qualities I find desirable in a partner, intelligence, grace, aliveness?

    Does it mean that men can never talk about rape?

    Surely the word you are looking for and which has been missing thoughout this discussion is ‘gratuitous’.

  7. Alec, I guess you can’t hide in fiction. Some accountability has to be taken for creating characters and portraying them in a certain way. If you create a sexist pig, you need to be able to deal with him responsibly in the writing or at least, be able to justify your reasons to the world. It’s a fine line though. I’ve really learned a lot from all of these discussions – thanks everyone. 🙂 I have an absolutely terrible character in my novel and still trying to figure out what the best way is to “deal” with him.

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