Michael Wesley is an academic and deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Melbourne. During the Covid lockdowns, while the rest of us were baking sourdough, he pulled together several related strands of thought about universities and Australia’s complicated relationship with them. Mind of the Nation, the result, offers a survey of where we are and how we arrived here, looked at from a number of different but intersecting angles.
The Tribute begins with a corpse. And not just any corpse. This body is discovered in a Sydney terrace house with its organs removed. One detective describes the crime as ‘butchery’, and that’s an understatement. This murder is the work of Stephen Porter, a deceptively bland chap who uses his bank job to secure the schedules and addresses of victims. These victims are then dissected as ‘tributes’ to the Fabrica, a collection of sixteenth-century anatomy books.
Alongside the current boom in political memoir, with its tendency to self-aggrandisement, score-settling, and justification of the indefensible, there grows quietly a small but compelling genre of books that explore the craft and policy purpose of various types of political work. Notable examples from Melbourne University Press include
A quiet revolution has been occurring within the humanities over the last decade: the emergence into mainstream scholarship of new methods and approaches that exploit digital tools, electronic infrastructures, networks of data resources and the sheer computational power of modern technology. This renaissance builds on decades of pioneering work – well before its time and largely unacknowledged – performed by committed visionaries who perceived the possibilities for textual scholarship years before desktop computers and the Internet enabled the rest of us to see how our research could be informed, assisted, extended and even revolutionised by new technologies.
If the past is a foreign country, Hollywood is another planet: they sure do things differently there. Just how differently is the predictable and tedious obsession of far too much adaptation scholarship, fixated on the degree of fidelity of a film to its adapted literary Urtext. This practice, boring and unimaginative, diverts the attention from what art can tell us about ourselves to what it can tell us about the colour of the breeches worn in the novel by that odd fellow in the twelfth chapter. Thomas Leitch, for one, is sick of it, and he has set out to shake up film scholarship and inject new life into the study of adaptation in this wide-ranging and acutely observed treatment.
Bob Ellis’s lightly edited journal alternates between two main timelines spanning 27 June 2007 to 8 November 2008: that is, from the run-up to the last Australian federal election to Barack Obama’s victory. Ellis’s insomniac musings over these sixteen-odd months are brilliant and shambolic, irritating and moving. The book is essential reading, but you have to work hard for the gems.