The Wheeler Centre recently hosted ‘four provocative nights’ based on the assertion that Australian criticism of film, theatre, books and the visual arts is, in its own words, ‘failing us all’. The series was entitled ‘Critical Failure’. For ABR readers unable to attend, here is one person’s account of the books-related panel.
There was certainly a sense of failure in the room at the session devoted to ‘Books’ (7 September 2010). The questions from the audience that followed the panel discussion, and subsequent comments, expressed people’s frustration and anger at what was a wasted opportunity. The dissatisfaction arose from the general lack of preparation and focus, and, more specifically, the dismissive pronouncements of Peter Craven and the disparaging complaints of Gideon Haigh. Hilary McPhee, recently returned to Melbourne, seemed concerned but a little at sea as to where current reviewing and criticism are heading. Rebecca Starford engaged with an important issue in her defence of the emerging role of the internet – ‘extending the conversation about books’ – but neither she nor anyone else pursued the vital distinction between mindless tweeting and serious online addresses.