Archive

‘A pox on the GST!’ wrote one of our many new readers last month when filling in her subscription form. ABR has long been famous for its feisty correspondence (never more so than last month). This editor is not about to disagree with our new subscriber. The imposition of GST on books and magazines surely rates as one of the crasser political acts in recent years. Anyone unsure of its effect on literature in this country should ask booksellers and publishers what sort of a year they had in 2000. Readers weren’t unscathed, either.

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In James Joyce’s Ulysses, Shakespeare is referred to as the happy hunting ground of all minds which have lost their balance. He is also referred to by Buck Mulligan, even less reverently, though with a distinct nationalist tilt, as ‘Shakespeare. I seem to recall the name. Ah, to be sure, the fellow who writes like Synge.’ Well, there probably are analogies between the greatest of all dramatists, who could also, as Donald Davie pointed out, use any word in the language he chose (and hence manipulated an extended diction), and the chap who set the Abbey Theatre stage on fire with the dynamic stylisation of Irish peasant speech in The Playboy of the Western World. Just as there are analogies between the poet who could write King Lear and the lonely Jesuit who wrote, ‘O the mind, mind has mountains: cliffs of fall / Frightful, sheer no-man-fathomed: / Hold them cheap may who ne’er hung there’, and all those tragic sonnets. Not to mention the fellow who posed in front of the bookshop sign in Paris.

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Without the slightest hint of irony, Jewel Kilcher, the young Alaskan poet and singer whose first volume of free verse, A Night without Armor, was published to popular acclaim a year or two ago, quotes Dylan Thomas in her preface: ‘A good poem is a contribution to reality.’ Thomas, thankfully, was right, and although we might argue, as poets often do, about the shape reality might take, it remains true to this day that good poetry contributes more to what we know, as individuals and as communities, and helps provide the ground for knowing what our realities can become.

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London 1999. I’m in a draughty slum in Hackney, the poor part of the East End, shared with a mini-UN of students, squatters, drifters and a junior investment banker. Feeding five-pound notes into the gas meter, keeping an eye out the window for the television licence detector van, we’re doing what everyone who comes to cool Britannia does most evenings – watching the BBC ‘cos we can’t afford to go to the pub. Suddenly, the screen seems to widen and there’s Sydney Harbour in all its luminescent glory, with an expert panel of worthies – Bob Hawke, Bill Hayden, Geoffrey Robertson – arrayed before it.

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Back in April, when Peter Rose asked me to write an irregular column for ABR on the campaigns that the Australian Society of Authors runs on behalf of writers, it seemed perfectly clear what the subject of my first column should be. At that time, after years of hints and veiled threats, the Government had finally revealed its hand and introduced a Bill into Federal Parliament to allow the parallel importation of books. The Government wanted this legislation passed before the end of the financial year – it was a priority item.

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Samuel Johnson once wilfully said, ‘Sir, we know our will is free, and there’s an end on’t.’ One can understand Johnson’s sentiment. Talk about will can be interminable. If we feel our will to be free, does it matter if it really is? Right now, I’m willing myself to write this review, instead of having dessert or watching Big Brother (‘Will to Power in Big Brother: Or, Are You Smirking at Me?’ would make an interesting paper). But my will is weak. I’ve just returned from making a cup of tea. Writers – like everybody else – are notoriously good at finding distractions. But what does it mean to say that my will is ‘weak’? How much am I willing my writing of this review, and how much am I forced to write it? Is writing determined by economics (need for money), psychology (desire to see one’s name in print), or class (aspirations learned through upbringing and education)? And yet I’m free, am I not, to pass my own judgment on the book? Sooner or later, we give up and go to the pub with Dr Johnson.

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Virtual Murdoch by Neil Chenoweth & Working for Rupert by Hugh Lunn

by
August 2001, no. 233

In the last week of June, after a period in the doldrums, the News Corporation share price suddenly took wing again. Buyers piled in. A lazy few hundred million dollars were added to the company’s value. The basis of the revaluation? Apparently, Rupert Murdoch himself had descended from Olympus to participate in a presentation to sharebrokers in Sydney. Enraptured at this visitation, analysts had upped their profit projections for News.

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In the last however many years, we have seen the rise of a kind of faction in this country which has enabled people like Drusilla Modjeska and Brian Matthews to show what scintillation and what fireworks may follow when the life of the mind (with whatever attendant discursive zigzagging) allows itself to imagine a world ...

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This book is suspended from a question mark, and all of Australia’s history is suspended with it. Henry Reynolds has been doing it for twenty years. What happens if we try to understand the coming of the Europeans from the Aboriginal viewpoint, from the other side of the frontier? Did the European invaders really think they were occupying a country that belonged to no one, a terra nullius? If we, the white people, had a legal title, how did we acquire it? If everything was fair and above board, why then this whispering in our hearts? And if so many big questions were left unanswered, if so many black people died so that we could live in prosperous comfort, Why weren’t we told?

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If T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound
Came back to life, again it would be found
One had the gab, the other had the gift
And each looked to the other for a lift ...

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