Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart was born in London in 1954, grew up in Brisbane, and worked in Melbourne before moving to the United States, where he still teaches (currently at the University of Virginia). Although he has won extravagant praise from Americans such as Charles Simić and Harold Bloom, he remains, to Australian readers, ...

Oxford University Press has begun a welcome series called Australian Writers. Two further titles, Imre Salusinszky on Gerald Murnane and Ivor Indyk on David Malouf, will appear in March 1993, and eleven more books are in preparation. Though I find the first three uneven in quality, they make a very promising start to a series. In some ways they resemble Oliver and Boyd’s excellent series, Writers and Critics, even being of about the same length. However this new series is less elementary, more demanding of the reader. It is, predictably, far sparser in critical evaluation, concentrating on hermeneutics, and biographical information is as rare as a wombat waltz.

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Collected Poems by Charles Buckmaster

by
August 1989, no. 113

All poets have two chances of being remembered. A few, the strongest of their age, compose a handful of poems that resist time and indifference. Many more never attain anything like poetic strength, yet their works are preserved because they embody a particular style or period. It is still too early to judge where Charles Buckmaster will be placed in the ranks of Australian literature. Already, though, the process of canonisation has started, and at the very least Buckmaster is likely to be read as an exemplary figure of Australian poetry in the 1960s.

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Many of our strongest writers are also numbered among our most commanding critics; and in some cases – Dryden, Johnson, Coleridge, and Eliot – it is not easy to tell whether their greater contribution is to literature or literary criticism. Part of the problem, of course, is that at this high level the distinction tends to break down: criticism becomes literature in its own right and often on its own terms.

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From the enlightenment to post-modernity, there has been one common rallying cry: ‘This is the age of criticism.’ Religious authority, natural rights and philosophical dogmatism have all been under critique for so long that criticism has almost come to seem natural, authoritative and is in danger of hardening into dogma. Little surprise, then, that outside the academy the word ‘criticism’ is seldom linked with the venerable discourse of theology, politics and philosophy but rather with a comparatively recent and fluid phenomenon: Literature.

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‘We assume, of course, that we are masters and not servants of facts,’ observes T.S. Eliot in an early essay, ‘and that we know that the discovery of Shakespeare’s laundry bills would not be of much use to us’. The sentence continues, still flickering between amusement and seriousness, futility of the research which has discovered them, in the possibility that some genius will appear who knows of a use to which to put them’. If he had lived a decade or so longer, Eliot may have smiled to hear of the furore which attended the publication of Nietzsche’s unpublished manuscripts, including his laundry bills. And while he may not have been entirely amused by Jacques Derrida’s essay, Éperons, partly prompted by this publication, Eliot would doubtless have agreed with one of the theoretical points that was made: it is impossible to tell for sure which of an author’s writings do not belong to his or her oeuvre.

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