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Robert Phiddian

Robert Phiddian

Robert Phiddian teaches literature at Flinders University and is specially interested in political satire, parody, and humour. He researches political satire, including current Australian political cartoons, with Haydon Manning. He is Chair of the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, and has a particular interest in the quality of public language and in writers’ festivals. He is also Director of the Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres.

Robert Phiddian reviews ‘The Comic Worlds of Peter Arno, William Steig, Charles Addams, and Saul Steinberg’ by Iain Topliss

November 2005, no. 276 01 November 2005
More so even than The Age, the New Yorker is a journal shaped and defined by its illustrators and cartoonists. For many decades it did not include photojournalism at all, and it only appears these days under sufferance. The cartoons contribute crucially to the ethos and style of a magazine that depends a lot on ethos and style. To think of the New Yorker is almost inevitably to think of the famous ... (read more)

Robert Phiddian reviews ‘Serious Frolic: Essays on Australian Humour’ edited by Fran de Groen and Peter Kirkpatrick

March 2009, no. 309 01 March 2009
It is never a good moment at a party when, after one and a half drinks, the person you’re talking to pronounces herself ‘a little bit crazy’. You haven’t, as a rule, stumbled into the company of a psychopath; more probably, the opposite. The person who feels the need to claim craziness is nearly always the dullest, most conformist person in the room, and now you need to find a civil way of ... (read more)

Robert Phiddian reviews ‘The Resurrectionist’ by James Bradley

March 2006, no. 279 01 March 2006
The mortality rate for individuals is always one, but for populations it varies from time to time and place to place. London is one of those cities where the mortality rate is high, though not because it has ever been, like the Gold Coast, a city to retire to. For centuries, young people have gone to London seeking riches, celebrity and opportunity. Some, like Dick Whittington, found the streets p ... (read more)

Robert Phiddian reviews 'Poetry and Philosophy from Homer to Rousseau: Romantic souls, realist lives' by Simon Haines

November 2006, no. 286 01 November 2006
Simon Haines shot to prominence for an Op-Ed piece in TheAustralian (9 June 2006) that seemed to enter the lists on the conservative side of the debate about what they teach in English classes these days. If you read carefully, you could tell that the prominence was only going to be momentary, because Haines’s argument was far too nuanced to provoke and maintain the level of polarised hysteria t ... (read more)

Robert Phiddian reviews 'The Wayward Tourist: Mark Twain’s adventures in Australia' by Mark Twain, with an introduction by Don Watson

December 2006–January 2007, no. 287 01 December 2006
Reading Mark Twain on Australia in the 1890s is a bit like watching Shane Warne bowl these days: you sense the playing up to the audience and an undignified element of hustle; a tendency to rely on the old tricks to fill the space and manufacture the laughs/wickets. And yet there’s no doubting the copiousness of the art, no resisting the tarnished genius on display. Sure, it would be nice to hav ... (read more)

Robert Phiddian reviews 'Pacifism and English Literature: Minstrels of peace' by R.S. White

July–August 2008, no. 303 01 July 2008
It is tempting to become impatient, and to reach for a gun to resolve a problem, or a knife to cut a Gordian knot. As I write, the Burmese generals have been dithering and obfuscating rather than letting aid workers into their storm-ravaged country. The paranoid preservation of their honour and control bids fair to cause the death of tens of thousands of people. If the Burmese people cannot rise u ... (read more)

Robert Phiddian reviews 'The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare’s Comedies' by Penny Gay

May 2009, no. 311 01 May 2009
Recently I engaged in an act of bad faith as a teacher. I set my second-year Shakespeare students a ‘research essay’ as a final piece of assessment, and insisted that they engage with primary scholarship – hardcover monographs and scholarly articles – if they wanted to do well. The problem is that industrial-strength literary criticism is almost unintelligible to undergraduates, and that i ... (read more)

Robert Phiddian reviews 'Man of Steel: A Cartoon history of the Howard years' edited by Russ Radcliffe

November 2007, no. 296 01 November 2007
If you look carefully at a political cartoon, the most remarkable thing is the quantity of latent information it depends on. Opening Russ Radcliffe’s collection from the Howard years at random, I spot something from one of the nation’s less fabled cartoonists, Vince O’Farrell of the Illawarra Mercury. It is a picture of a military aircraft marked Labor, barrelling along the ground. The pilot ... (read more)

Robert Phiddian reviews 'Alexander Pope in the Making' by Joseph Hone

August 2021, no. 434 22 July 2021
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 reaso ... (read more)
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