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Moving on

by
March 2009, no. 309

Literary Activists: Writer-Intellectuals and Australian Public Life by Brigid Rooney

UQP, $34.95 pb, 260 pp, 9780702236624

Moving on

by
March 2009, no. 309

While rehearsing in Martin Place for the recent Sydney Festival, my daughter found herself dancing on a plinth while a heckler below chanted ‘Wanker!’ throughout. On another platform, her fellow artists, all of them performing their intricately choreographed work, endured the calls of another passer-by, ‘You’re so predictable!’ In Australia, everybody’s a critic.

Brigid Rooney’s survey of literary activism in Australia over the past sixty years begins with Patrick White’s famous ‘Prodigal Son’ rant (Australian Letters, 1958) against the mediocrity of Australian cultural life. Rooney notes the regular criticism of White’s position as élitist, a function of his distance from ordinary working Australians. This charge of élitism, in turn, can be applied to anyone who cares about art and ideas more than about the politics of class power. But in Australia those with a passion for art are more likely to know my daughter’s experience of being derided by ‘ordinary Australians’ than they are to feel the authority that supposedly accompanies high culture. Rooney cites the case of David Williamson writing about the ‘yobbos’ he met on a cruise that he won in a charity auction. Not even a popular satirist like Williamson is allowed to get away with criticising the philistine nature of ‘ordinary’ Australians.

Susan Lever reviews ‘Literary Activists: Writer-Intellectuals and Australian Public Life’ By Brigid Rooney

Literary Activists: Writer-Intellectuals and Australian Public Life

by Brigid Rooney

UQP, $34.95 pb, 260 pp, 9780702236624

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