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Robert Phiddian

If you are looking for the perfect command of voice, Alexander Pope is your poet. It is not just desiccated eighteenth-century rationalists who say this, my Keats-scholar friend Will Christie thinks so too. This is despite the fact that there is zero negative capability in Pope, ‘when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’. His ironies are precise riddles to be sprung, his judgements instant aphorisms. Pope writes exactly what he means, and it lands exactly on target.

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What Matters?: Talking value in Australian Culture by Julian Meyrick, Robert Phiddian, and Tully Barnett

November 2018, no. 406

As I sat down to write this review, a media release popped into my email inbox with the excited news that more than 400,000 people had visited the National Gallery of Victoria’s MoMA exhibition over its four-month duration, making it the NGV’s ‘second most attended ticketed exhibition on record ...

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It stands to reason, apparently, that universities are inefficient creatures that need ever more market discipline and corporate responsiveness to fulfil their potential. After all, what is education but an industry, and British industry is plainly more successful than British universities. Or perhaps not. Stefan Collini points acerbically to the fact that British i ...

An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope, edited by Tom Jones

December 2016, no. 387

For the novice, Alexander Pope’s couplets can seem a numbing wilderness of equipoise – rhyme balanced against rhyme, half lines balanced around the caesura, regular iambs marching on to the end of pentametrical time (alternatively ‘to the edge of doom’). With a bit of experience as a reader, however, it is the wrought tension of Pope’s couplets that fascin ...

Twelve years after Swift’s death, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu showed a visitor to her house in Venice a commode lined with books by Pope, Bolingbroke, and Swift. This, she explained, ‘gave her the satisfaction of shitting on them every day’. We still don’t know exactly what it was that caused her to fall out with Swift, Pope, and their friends in the 1720s, bu ...

Taking Stock: The Humanities in Australia edited by Mark Finnane and Ian Donaldson

June 2013, no. 352

This is a highly intelligent collection of essays by some of the nation’s finest minds about the ebb and flow of intellectual endeavour in the humanities since the institution of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1969. In the thirty-one essays – built around keynotes, panels, and responses – there are too many gems among them for me to be willing to ...

Were I Editor in Chief of The Australian for a day, the first thing I would do is can the ‘Cut and Paste’ section on the Letters page. Its schoolyard bullying of the fools and knaves idiotic enough to oppose the paper’s line – usual suspects include Fairfax journalists, the ABC, Greens politicians, Tim Flannery, and Robert Manne – lies at the heart of what stops The Australian from being a great newspaper. A favourite game is quoting a commentator saying discordant things at different times. As an argument, this is right up there with great moments in adolescent wit like, ‘You said Chanelle was a slag last week, and now you are going out with her!’

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It is no secret that scholarly publishing is between a rock and a hard place these days. The rock is the proliferation of titles demanded by university research quanta and government assessment exercises. The hard place is the endless tightening of library acquisitions budgets. The result is ever-shrinking print runs, ever-growing covert or explicit publication subsidies and a rational but extreme conservatism in the commissioning habits of those academic presses that strive to remain quasi-commercial. Essay collections, in particular, have a hard time as book proposals, because, as publishers will tell you, people don’t buy them.

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