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John McLaren

The decisive influence on Australian politics and culture has been the fact that our society has always included a large minority who, even if they considered themselves British, were definitely Irish and not English. The fact that this minority has been Catholic and, as a result, has felt itself discriminated against, has shaped the church into an Irish rather than a European mode, so that, as Campion points out, not only was to be Irish to be Catholic, but to be Catholic was to be Irish.

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John McLaren’s contribution to the new series titled ‘Essays in Australian  Literature’ is, as the editorial page proclaims, ‘the first extended study of the two major works by Xavier Herbert - his first novel, Capricornia, and his last, Poor Fellow My Country. ... (read more)

In a world which has lost its faith and its standards, the situation of the creative artist is both central and precarious. As Wallace­-Crabbe sees it, he must stand inside and outside society at once, be both totally involved with himself and totally responsive to his society. While doing this, he must create not only his own audience but even his own language.

In this series of essays, Wallace-Crabbe explores this dilemma in the work of contemporary English-language poets ranging from Thomas Hardy to Elizabeth Bishop, and from W. H. Auden – ‘the good Christian practices light verse’ – to Robert Lowell and Ezra Pound. The essays both illuminate the work of the writers he discusses and contribute to our understanding of the crucial problem of contemporary culture.

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Angry Penguins edited by Max Harris and John Reed & Poetic Gems by Max Harris

February–March 1980, no. 18

In his introduction to The New Australian Poetry, reviewed elsewhere in this issue by Thomas Shapcott, John Tranter declares that this poetry has no allegiance except to itself. Some characteristics of works regarded as modernist are: ‘self-signature’ – the work validates its own technical innovations – and self-reference, where the ‘method’ is reflected consciously in the ‘medium’. He contrasts this modernism with such work as Vincent Buckley’s ‘Golden Builders’, which elicits a response of ‘quasi-religious rhetoric . . . a natural outgrowth of Australian university English departments’, and one sufficient to explain the ‘anti-academic bias’ evident in much of the work of the new poets.

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While the reading of a book has become a solitary matter, its interpretation remains a convivial task which must be performed anew for each new reader, new age, and new country. The business of criticism is to help us in this task, and from a multitude of judgements to further our understanding of an author’s words for our time.  The critic is therefore involved not only with books, but through them with the cultural problems of his society. Critical debates thus become debates about major social issues.

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Marxists have always been concerned about the relationships of intellectuals to the rest of society, and particularly to change in society. The intellectual, being able to stand aside from immediate social pressures, is able to see the truth of what is happening, and so to correct the false consciousness of those who are involved in the everyday business of production.

Marx and Engels themselves provide the perfect examples of these roles – Engels earned the income, in his role as successful capitalist, while Marx did the thinking. Yet there is a contradiction. The conclusion to which Marx's thinking led him was that ideas themselves are determined by the material forces of production. If this is so, then the words of the intellectual who explains this process are not only irrelevant. but probably untrue, as the consciousness which has generated his ideas has not itself been a part of the productive process.

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Although the policy of the Australian Book Review is to review only Australian books, every now and then a publisher sends us a book which is so important or so relevant to issues of current concern that it cannot be ignored. Recent debate in Australian newspapers makes The Holocaust in Historical Perspective, by Yehuda Bauer (published in Australia by ANU Press), such a book.

The book consists of four lectures originally delivered in Seattle, and concerned with the question of why the Holocaust is the central experience of our civilisation, and of how it was allowed to occur.

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The title of David Malouf’s novel, An Imaginary Life, must be read three ways. Most obviously, the novel is an imaginative recreation of the last years of the life of the Roman poet, Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid), who was exiled to a village on the Black Sea by the Emperor Augustus in the last century BCE. The life is imaginary because it imagines – most successfully – the circumstances of this exile.

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The first edition of the Australian Encyclopedia was published by Angus & Robertson in two volumes in 1925, under the general editorship of Captain Arthur Jose. The second edition, completely revised and rewritten, was published in 1958 and ran to ten volumes, including an index. The editorial team was headed by Alec Chisholm. This edition was later sold to the Grolier Society, which has now published a third edition with Bruce W. Pratt as Editor­in-Chief. This edition is a complete revision and updating of the second.

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Kenneth Cook’s latest book is a parable for adults. At the end of the second millennium A.D., God remembers the duty he has overlooked at the end of the first, destroys life on earth. However, no doubt due to his advanced age, he is a little careless, and in a valley in the in the middle of the United States, two mice survive. They and their rapidly multiplying descendants inherit man’s civilization, including thought and speech, but otherwise not memory. They have to develop theory and institutions from scratch, guided by reason and reading.

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