In the last few weeks, a mass exodus of more than a quarter of a million Rohingya, terrorised and starving, have fled towards the Bangladeshi border – a frontier that the Burmese military, known as the Tatmadaw, have booby trapped with land mines. This unfolding tragedy is a reminder that some people are considered superfluous. It’s a reminder that some lives matter less than others and that some people are sacrificed to serve the political and economic ends of others.
My favourite living poet, a poet who seemed like he’d never stop writing, died in his sleep in his home in Hudson, New York, on Sunday 3rd of September, a strangely appropriate way to go, perhaps, for John Ashbery – unconscious, half in this world, half in another, kind of like his poems.
What we don’t know about Joan of Arc could fill a server farm. Yet the basic facts of her life are simple enough that they’ve continuously inspired children’s books. A teenage peasant who never held a formal position of power, she is more famous today than the French king she fought for or the English king she opposed. (Charles VII, to us, is simply the king who met Joan.) She has spawned movies, plays, fashion lines, advertisements and 1920s flapper hairstyles. Christians, feminists, transgender activists, neopagans, leftists, the French Resistance and Marine Le Pen supporters have all revered (and repurposed) her story.
While the right’s response to the postal survey has been somewhat predictable, what has also been hard to watch is the response of some in the ‘yes’ campaign. Despite the unfolding homophobia and transphobia around the postal survey, it is clear that groups like Australian Marriage Equality and GetUp have decided to steer away from these topics. These groups have rolled out doctors and heterosexual families to provide reassurance that marriage equality does not involve a gay agenda of radical ‘gender theory’.
Literary festivals are complex beasts. They’re simultaneously social spaces, cultural projects and political platforms. As providers of entertainment, drivers of tourist revenue and exercises in government branding – think ‘Melbourne: City of Literature’ – they cop flak for their commercialisation. Nevertheless, these festivals do work hard to build audiences for writers from marginalised backgrounds, and to program events that critique inequalities in contemporary publishing.