Always Almost Modern
Australian Scholarly Publishing, $44 pb, 328 pp, 9781925003109
Australia was colonised in the period of modernity, with the Industrial Revolution driving much of its development and a belief in improving technology and political progress underlying its public institutions. The society may have been modern but its culture, in particular its art and literature, has borne the recurrent charge of backwardness. The centres of innovation in twentieth-century art have been elsewhere, in the cosmopolitan cities of Europe or the United States of America, so that Australian critics and artists have carried a sense that to be distant from the centre also means to be behind the times. The gap between Australian modernity and its artistic partner and antagonist, modernism, has obsessed many Australian critics over the years; it is as if Australian art somehow ought to match the society’s technological progress as a matter of national pride.