The Virtual Republic: Australia’s culture wars of the 1990s
Allen & Unwin $19.95pb, 314pp
‘Ken Wark,’ says Linda Jaivin on this jacket, ‘makes postmodernism sexy.’ First cabbages, now postmodernism! Where can she take us from here? The trouble is I don’t believe her. Now that’s too easy a write-off. I’m not instinctually warm to The Virtual Republic, and I think Linda Jaivin’s line is a more than normally meretricious blurb, but Wark’s enterprise is essentially a request for conversation and why not accede to that. Still I want to protest even as I converse. The book is an olive branch masquerading as a polemic. Or, like Lindsay’s parrot who was a swagman, is it the other way round?
There are two parts, ‘Roots’ and ‘Aerials’. The first is an account of Wark’s intellectual progress and program, the second a critique of recent cultural controversies —Demidenko/ Darville, Manning Clark, The First Stone, Christopher Koch and David Williamson on postmodernism, political correctness, Pauline Hanson. This second part I find often stimulating and sometimes even persuasive. Koch’s Miles Franklin acceptance speech, for example, does not stand up at all well, and Wark’s discussion of Clark’s Meeting Soviet Man manages to be sympathetic yet not a ridiculous spectacle of bending over backwards.