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McKenzie Wark

Jean-Luc Godard’s film about young French revolutionaries, La Chinoise (1967), was described by Manny Farber as having ‘a suspicious sideways movement […] sliding sideways, crab fashion, [that] bars progress to its inhabitants, keeps turning the actors whirligig fashion without revealing anything about them’. Named after graffiti from the Paris uprising of May 1968, McKenzie Wark’s The Beach Beneath the Street takes on the Situationist International (SI) with what look, at first, to be similarly crab-like gestures.

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A Symposium on the state of Australian Fiction with McKenzie Wark, Katharine England, and James Bradley ... (read more)

McKenzie Wark had the good fortune to ensconce himself in media studies just when those who once would have busied themselves with Stendhal or John Tranter began to envy his terrain. And his various journalistic gigs, notably his column for The Australian Higher Education Supplement, give him the advantage over other academics of being able to cobble together a book every year or two. Or, as he puts it, ‘Celebrities, Culture and Cyberspace is a book that was written in its own peculiar way, as a series of experiments with fitting events and ideas together, conducted in public, through a wide variety of print and electronic media.’

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John Docker

Mark Davis’ Voltairean Gangland is one of those rare books that prise open a space for revaluation of the direction of a culture. Like The Dunciad’s evocation of the Grub Street hacks of its time, Gangland exposes tentacular networks of chummy patronage, mutual puffery, and cultural power. Gangland is especially enjoyable on the clown-like behaviour of the ex-Scripsi diaspora – in a curious sexual division of labour, a B-team of male critics, captained by the felicitously named P. Craven, has successfully promoted a coterie of writers like Jolley, Garner, and Modjeska. Compared to those I analyse in Australian Cultural Elites (1974) and In A Critical Condition (1984), this new élite is the most intellectually thin in Australian cultural history. Assisted by a passive, grovelling middle-class readership, it both creates such writers as canonical and then tries desperately to shield their texts from critique and challenge.

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‘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?

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