We live in a deeply commodified culture that values style over substance, image over reality, the disposable over the sustainable. McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, The Da Vinci Code and Transformers, Australian Idol and Border Security – these are the faces of mass culture. Filmmakers and publishers often justify the situation by blaming consumers. ‘We’re just giving them what they want,’ they argue.
One of Eltham’s key criticisms of the Australia Council is that its view of the arts is antiquated, remaining largely unchanged from the 1970s. As examples, he names arts practices that are not supported by the council’s art form boards – gaming, genre fiction, online writing, and musicals, to name a few. The problem is that this isn’t true.
Despite repeated predictions of their decline, the Australian Greens have strengthened their grip as the third force in politics. They are currently running at 10–12 per cent in national polls and have a membership of almost 9000, with around 150 local groups and branches.
We might be moved, outraged or excited by a particular work of fiction, but it barely seems possible to imagine a novel that could change the way we envision the world or the way we live in it. What we have lost, and what Bolaño’s work seems to have rediscovered, is the sense that literary texts can shape, rather then merely reflect, the consciousness of the culture in which they circulate.
They tell me I sound like a cranky old Luddite. The blogosphere, they explain eagerly, is like a vast salon, full of voices and ideas keen for your attention, full of musings on books, films and public events, full of passionately held opinions and lively discussion – exactly what a writer needs. They make it sound like Paris in the 1920s – a creative ferment, testing my capacity to keep up. But the closer I look, the harder I find this to swallow.
A wonderful collection of students wearing jeans, tights, leather jackets, miniskirts, caps and suits sat squashed onto sprung vinyl seats or cross-legged in the aisles. Some were there because they’d heard about our proposed sedition and didn’t want to miss the excitement. Others – ALP supporters, mostly – wanted to voice their opposition but thought our support for the NLF over the top, liable to drive people away from the movement. A few sat goggle-eyed, along for the ride but with little or no idea what was about to happen.
Paul Kelly is the ultimate insider: editor, journalist, historian, commentator. How does he combine these roles? And how might we explain his relentless rise? What does this story tell us about politics and letters in contemporary Australia?
During 2009 I was the fortunate recipient of a Copyright Agency Limited grant to meet with small independent publishers in the US to discuss the state of the industry. As a small press publisher from Melbourne, I was looking for something to indicate that people were tired of the mall-like sameness of the publishing industry, the stranglehold of large retails chains and the domination of media conglomerates.
The PEN/Macquarie Anthology of Australian Literature has attracted ill-judged criticism from reviewers who would have preferred a treasury of great writing rather than the comprehensive picture that this collection gives us of 225 years of Australian writing. The new Cambridge History of Australian Literature, on the other hand, has been received much more calmly.
The woman across the aisle from me on the train was reading a newspaper. She squinted at the picture on the cover, chuckling to herself. I leaned over to see what she was smiling about. Her eyes met mine and she quickly folded the paper in quarters, turned it over on her lap and stared out the window.
A sugar glider is being dragged outside by two cops. It has just dumped a pile of woodchips inside the Victorian Treasury Office and yelled, ‘Stop woodchipping the water catchment, Brumby!’As you might have guessed, this is no ordinary marsupial. Rather, it’s an activist in costume, an activist with a sense of humour – an activist with the guts to cross the thin blue line, to challenge the police, fight for a cause and make the government look silly.
Supporters of Australian cinema have had a mixed experience recently. Last year, we were able to enjoy some of the finest films that this country has produced but we also had to endure the ongoing attack upon the industry by commentators accusing Australian cinema of ‘doom and gloom’, not being escapist enough, not attracting large enough audiences and not making enough money at the box office.
The Global Street Party on 16 May 1998 was one of the first internationally coordinated manifestations of the counter-globalisation movement. With people dancing, marching and cavorting through streets around the world, it provided an early indication that something new was happening in politics.
Devon was at home with his father when it happened, his father’s heart attack. They were having breakfast and then Roland’s eyes blinked and blinked as his mouth opened wide. He tumbled as he tried to find a hold on the kitchen bench. He hit the ground but he still looked as if he were falling on down through the floor.
They’re full-blown in their early spring
rush – pin cushions a fakir’s bed of nails
so soft to tread on, so easy to make false
into a metre high
tall / pondering a nose scratch
the still-dark hall lies await starboard
a wan incitement to futures of regression
Ned Kelly as landscape – Sid Nolan’s idea
Ned Kelly member of the family
Ned Kelly as bully
Let’s go down to Scottsdale and look
At the galleries and the beans and after,
Hike in the desert, leave in the heating kitchen
He steps out onto the dry, white lakebed.
Hears the crunch of crystals underfoot.
Tries not to imagine whiteness creeping
we set out early with coffee no music the speakers dismantled weeks ago
from the back seat she says ‘take the western ring road’ we bypass the city
the bridge to the west and begin the long straight road to Geelong
Loaded with raw materials: colons, commas,
fragments of broken grammar. This poem
is wired with faulty rhetoric and ideas
His rust-wrecked roof with a hole
Big as a fist is replaced by
Zincalum glittering down the valley,
The book’s title is a homonym for François Villon, the fifteenth-century French poet, thief and vagabond who died at thirty-two and who famously wrote ballads in French criminal slang. His work, once translated into English in the nineteenth century, was frowned upon by those with loftier poetic standards. Clemens makes inventive translations of Villon’s irreverent and often lewd poetry.
Singer-songwriters who write poetry are different from poets. Their poetry is always that much nearer to being sung than read. Songs and poetry aren’t seamless – they’re different genre. The writing of Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed – all trumpeted as ‘poets’ – is not as complicated, as neurotic nor as consciously interested in poetic form as that of most poets.
‘Wimmera’ is a classical epic poem about the Victorian district in which Homer Rieth lives. Here, though, the poet substitutes human beings for gods and goddesses. The scope and ambition in this grand poem is laudable. Interestingly, Rieth is a long-ago migrant to Australia, and there is a distinctly European philosophical subtext here, as is to be expected in an epic – ‘so what is it then about any place/that fills and empties alike/the world with its life’./p>
This collection’s sixty poems are subtitled ‘psalms’ and each is numbered. There’s something immediately Scorsese-esque about the subtitle ‘A New York Book of Psalms’ but Angela Gardner’s New York experience is too coolly considered for that association. As her subtitle implies, New York evokes a religiosity: ‘I see moonlight as the promised land.’
Bendable Learnings reprises a theme that Don Watson established in 2003 with Death Sentence and continued in 2004 with Weasel Words. Over the intervening six years, he has tightened his aim to focus specifically on the managerial jargon that pervades all facets of institutional life.