Oxford University Press
Apologists for torture often defend their walk on the dark side by invoking putative imperatives, such as protecting their communities from great evils. The paradigm is the ‘ticking bomb’ situation, where pre-empting catastrophe hangs on extracting information from uncooperative terrorists. The merging of combatants and innocents in modern warfare has highlighted the terrible dilemmas of ‘collateral damage’: how much intended or foreseen material destruction and killing of innocents can be justified in engaging your enemy? Then there are the ‘noble’ lies that politicians seem obliged to tell in protecting the larger interests of the nation.... (read more)
Wilfrid Prest reviews 'The Ends Of Life: Roads To Fulfilment In Early Modern England' by Keith Thomas
A new book by the most learned, original and witty historian now living and writing in England – conceivably in English – is a rare treat. Because Keith Thomas’s academic career commenced in 1950s Oxford, it scarcely mattered that his first monograph – the prizewinning, much-acclaimed Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971) – only appeared when its author was in his late thirties. For ‘publish or perish’ still then seemed little more than a joke, except across the Atlantic, where some of my senior colleagues in the history department at Johns Hopkins had doubts about inviting an apparently ‘unpublished’ Mr Thomas to read a paper early in 1971. (Not all knew his historiographical essays in the TLS and elsewhere, let alone his pioneering forays into gender history).... (read more)
Twenty-five or thirty years ago, when it was still fashionable to speak of the Great Australian Emptiness, we took this image of the geographical dead heart of Australia as implying a cultural emptiness as well, a suggestion that too little had happened or been made here to give the mind, the civilised mind, anything to hang on to, identify with or make its own.... (read more)
David Horner reviews 'The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (Second Edition)' edited by Peter Dennis et al.
In his famous but tendentious 1989 essay ‘The End of History’, the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama argued that ‘we may be witnessing ... not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history’. A similar proposition might well have been made about Australian military history. By 1989 the great era of Australian military history seemed to have passed. The centrepieces of this era were the two world wars, which were so large, bloody and traumatic that they seemed destined to dominate the subject for many decades to come. What came before – the New Zealand Wars, Sudan, the Boxer Rebellion, and the Boer War – were seen as preliminary or preparatory episodes, or, as the title of one book on Sudan put it, ‘The Rehearsal’. The conflicts that followed World War II were postscripts. The performances and sacrifices of Australians in Korea, Malaya, Borneo, and Vietnam were measured against the earlier experiences of the world wars. All of Australia’s senior commanders in Vietnam had served in World War II, while most of the younger fighters there were the sons of World War II veterans.... (read more)
Evan Jones reviews 'The Typewriter Considered As Bee-trap' by Martin Johnston and 'Fast Forward' by Peter Porter
I have sat on these books longer than is reasonable for a review, yet have to confess that I am not satisfied with the readiness of what follows. I got the Porter first, but receiving the Johnston thought that they in some ways offered similar difficulties, perhaps similar rewards, to the reader, and that it might be neat to review them together.... (read more)
Following her husband’s excellent autobiography of his early years, Mucking About (1977), Alexandra Hasluck’s own life story has been eagerly awaited. And it has been worth the wait. Portrait in a Mirror is one of only a handful of good autobiographies by Australian public figures. Its 322 pages are full of colour, with some excellent passages of prose, particularly her warm, evocative descriptions of the Australian countryside. Hers is essentially a feminine, empathetic view of the world.... (read more)
When the Abbé Michel Fourmont travelled to Sparta in the 1730s, he thought he was going to make his fortune and academic reputation. The depths of Ottoman Greece were largely unknown territory to European travellers at this time. What fabulous discoveries lay in store for him, wondered the Abbé. What treasures had been left behind by this one of the greatest powers that the Greek world had ever known? One can imagine his anguish when, after braving numerous perils to reach Sparta, he discovered that barely anything remained of this great city-state. Indeed, the paucity of material was such that it seems to have driven Fourmont slightly mad. Rather than admit that nothing existed, he invented in his account of Sparta a series of fabulous, non-existent monuments – altars for human sacrifice, elaborate records of treaties between Sparta and Jerusalem, lists of priestesses and kings that stretched back to antiquity. To disguise his act of forgery, lest any later traveller try to find these monuments, he even pretended to have destroyed them, protesting that as a decent Christian he couldn’t allow such pagan works to survive. It would take scholars decades before they could unravel the extent of Fourmont’s deceit.... (read more)
The figure of the child stands at both ends of human experience in Shakespeare’s plays. The span between our ‘mewling and puking’ infancy and our ‘second childishness’ of old age runs to little more than a dozen lines in Jacques’s famous ‘seven ages of man’ speech in As You Like It, before we slip into ‘mere oblivion, / Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.’ In the intervening years, our identity as children might shift as we undergo rites of passage into adulthood, as our relationships with our own parents evolve or as we become parents ourselves. But the child – the archetype of our essential nature – waits patiently for our return. Even Lear, the grand patriarch who disowns the truth-speaking child of his heart, must be racked on the fiery wheel of experience before he can become the ‘child-changed father’ Cordelia recognises in the end.... (read more)
That Australia’s first national school of painters were ‘city bushmen’ is well documented. Tom Roberts began his career as a photographer in Collingwood, Frederick McCubbin in the family’s West Melbourne bakery and Arthur Streeton as an apprentice lithographer. Stories about their plein air painting excursions to Box Hill, Mentone, and Eaglemont are often told. The useful art historical label ‘The Heidelberg School’ first seems to have been used by a local journalist reviewing Streeton’s and Walter Withers’ work done chiefly in this attractive suburb where, with others of like inclination, they have established a summer congregation for out-of-door painting (The Australasian Critic, l July 1891). Leigh Astbury, however, defines his use of the term Heidelberg School ‘in its current broader sense, that is, artists of a more ‘progressive tendency working in Melbourne and Sydney in the 1880s and 1890s’.... (read more)
John Hanrahan reviews 'The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature' edited by William H. Wilde, Joy Hooton, and Barry Andrews
This is a splendid book, by far the most important of the recent OUP contributions to the study of Australian literature. Everything that you ever wanted to know about Australian Literature. Comprehensive (amazingly), consistently lively, up to date, as far as I can judge, accurate.
I have played the usual reviewers’ game for a book like this – trying to ...