The Best Australian Essays 2001
Black Inc, $29.95 pb, 594 pp
In the ‘Author’s Prologue’ to Book III of Gargantua and Pantagruel (trans. Urquhart, pub. 1693), Rabelais considers the plight of the philosopher Diogenes the Cynic at the siege of Corinth, who, prevented from action in the battle by dint of his occupation, retired towards a little hill or promontory, took his famous tub and ‘in great vehemency of spirit, did he turn it, veer it, wheel it, frisk it, jumble it, shuffle it … ’ and so on for some hundred further verbs, thus relieving tension generated by inaction. This is the philosopher who gave cheek to Alexander the Great, who in turn said: ‘If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes.’ One can only relish Rabelais’s irony: he must perforce use words to draw attention to the simultaneous impotence and agency of words.