Saving Liberal Democracy from Liberal Democrats

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Saving Liberal Democracy from Liberal Democrats
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Saving Liberal Democracy
from Liberal Democrats
Ryszard Legutko
ANZAC & ITS ENEMIES
THE HISTORY WAR ON
AUSTRALIA’S NATIONAL IDENTITY
The Anzacs died in vain in an imperialist war and their legend
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So say the anti-Anzacs led by a former prime minister, influential
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They are determined to destroy the legend and ruin the Centennial
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The Urgency of Truth: The Writing of Simon Leys
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Getting No Respect: The Blue-Collar Voter
Henry Olsen
How Frank Gehry Imposed Hollywood Narcissism
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Philip Drew
From Gatherum to Gulgong: Trollope in Australia
M ark McGinness
On Paul Hasluck Philip Ayres
On fiction’s foggy frontier Michael Connor
On Jennifer Compton Geoffrey Lehmann
On the great connoisseurs Douglas H assall
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sabotage at home. Australian soldiers fighting in New Guinea and
the Pacific went without food, radio equipment and ammunition because
of union strikes.
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pilfered from ships’ cargoes and soldiers’ personal effects. Other strikes
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SpeCIal New SubSCrIber offer
487 pOems by 169 auThOrs
“ It has been known for decades”, Les Murray writes in his introduction to this
collection, “that poets who might fear relegation or professional sabotage from the
critical consensus of our culture have a welcome and a refuge in Quadrant—but only
if they write well.”
From the second decade of his 20 years as literary editor of Quadrant, Les Murray
here presents a selection of the best verse he published between 2001 and 2010.
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 pril 2015
A
No. 515 Volume Lix, Number 4
Letters
Chronicle
politics
tribute
correspondents
the middle east
history
architecture
education
the constitution
society
poetry
art
literature
first person
film
stories
books
ryan
Poetry
2 Giles Auty, J.B. Paul, Tony Caldersmith, Peter Gilet, Joan Stanbury,
Geoff Fletcher, Suzanne Edgar
6 John O’Sullivan
8 Saving Liberal Democracy from Liberal Democrats Ryszard Legutko
14 Getting No Respect: Blue-Collar Voters in the Anglosphere Henry Olsen
18 The Urgency of Truth: The Writing of Simon Leys Anthony Daniels
24 Points of the Compass: I: Copenhagen Ulla Terkelsen; II: Mariupol,
Ukraine Askold Krushelnycky
32 The Shiite Crescent Joseph Power
37 From Gatherum to Gulgong: Trollope in Australia Mark McGinness
41 How Frank Gehry Imposed Hollywood Narcissism on Ultimo
Philip Drew
44 The Place of Religion in a Secular Curriculum Kevin Donnelly
50 A Preamble for All of Us Timoshenko Aslanides
52 Where Are We Going? Peter H. Edwards
58 The Princess Who Became a Queen Geoffrey Lehmann
61 The Connoisseurs: Kenneth Clark and Federico Zeri Douglas Hassall
68 Writers on the Foggy Frontier Michael Connor
72 William S. Burroughs, Scientologist Joe Dolce
76 Love and Humility as Epistemological Virtues Gary Furnell
80 Uncrowded Thoughts at Gallipoli Laurie Hergenhan
82 Smelling a Rat B.J. Coman
85 A Different Life Nana Ollerenshaw
87 Full-Blown Romanticism and Delicate Irony Neil McDonald
90 Love Brad Jackel
95 From Table Number 9 Simone Richardson
98 Paul Hasluck by Geoffrey Bolton Philip Ayres
102 Salafism in Lebanon by Robert G. Rabil Daryl McCann
105 Blind Moses by Peter Latz Robert Murray
107 Remembering Belloc by James V. Schall Karl Schmude
110 The Memory of Sir John Monash Peter Ryan
12: If Only Brian Turner; 13: Pure; Oh Moon Myra Schneider; 23: The
History of Western Thought Geoff Page; View Brian Turner;
Reconciliation Haiku Joe Dolce; 30: A Little Wine; The Morandi
Museum Jan Owen; 31: Wittgenstein’s Beetle; Doctor Donne Likened
John Whitworth; 36: Dark Thoughts John Whitworth; 40: The Saturday
Evening Post; The Shopper Geoff Page; 49: What a Time; C. Chaplin
Saxby Pridmore; 51: A Survivor Barbara Fisher; 56: The Ancient Gooney
Bird; War and Peace Senryu; Masturbari Joe Dolce; 67: Mansa Musa’s
Hajj; Besetting Sins Olivia Byard; 71: Windows Myra Schneider; 75: Ten
Meditations on a Crowd John Foulcher; 79: The Fish Pond Russell Erwin;
81: Tired Wings Kristen Roberts; 89: Heading Home Victoria Field;
Hide and Seek Barbara Fisher; 94: Advent Brian Turner; 97: Ash John
Foulcher; 109: Bloodlines Russell Erwin; 112: Birds Bathing Brian Turner
L e t t er s
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2
Brian Sewell
Sir: In complimenting Dr Douglas
Hassall (March 2015) on writing
a lengthy and very well argued
essay on English painter Frank
Auerbach—and Quadrant no less
on publishing it—I need nevertheless to raise an important cavil.
While Dr Hassall is thoroughly
justified in dismissing a great deal of
contemporary art criticism as piffle,
he is quite wrong even to suggest
that English art critic Brian Sewell
is ever merely glib. Sewell, who
has been undone finally only by ill
health, has an excellent analytical
mind, which is very rare indeed in
art criticism, and couples this with
an often stinging wit. His overall
view in the thirty-odd years he has
been writing regularly has been as
consistently accurate—and fearless—as that of any critic working
anywhere in the world.
It is my personal view that
Sewell is more right than wrong
in his criticisms of Auerbach.
Even though many Quadrant
readers may be unfamiliar with
Auerbach’s work they will certainly
know that of others whom Sewell
damns much more roundly—such
as David Hockney—in his latest
anthology. Anyone with an interest in visual art can learn a great
deal by reading Naked Emperors
(Quartet Books, 2012) not least
about the craft of writing itself, a
matter all of us should continue to
respect. (Thus, on a minor point, is
there any chance of spelling Lucian
Freud’s name correctly?)
I do not know Dr Hassall personally but thoroughly endorse his
enthusiasm for a great subject, the
vital human importance of which
has been neglected increasingly of
late. May I leave him however with
a small request: that he obtains
and reads a lengthy essay I wrote
in Quadrant of April 2006. This
Quadrant April 2015
piece has just been reprinted in an
English magazine on the grounds
that its subject—the basic dilemma
of modernism itself—may still be
of some relevance to us all.
In the days when I was still a
full-time critic I discovered a much
older German painter of Jewish
extraction who, like Auerbach,
was essentially living in exile—in
her case in Sweden. This was Lotte
Laserstein, whom I rate as the finest
female practitioner of the twentieth
century. Her name will probably be
unfamiliar to most readers, as will
that of her predecessor and fellow
countryman Adolf von Menzel,
whom no less a figure than Degas
regarded as the finest painter of the
entire nineteenth century.
In art much still remains to
explore, and Dr Hassall’s enthusiasm should be welcomed.
Giles Auty
Leura, NSW
Blunt and the Letters
SIR: George Jonas, in his arti-
cle “Traitors and Spies” (March
2015), claims that in 1956 Anthony
Blunt was knighted by the Queen
“possibly as a reward for helping
to retrieve from Germany after
the war some embarrassing letters
written by the Duke of Windsor”.
I dealt with this canard, among
many others, in my article “The
Duke of Windsor and the Nazis”
(Quadrant, July-August 2005). I
stated:
Another furphy needs to
be demolished, as it was
highlighted a couple of years
ago in a BBC television
program entitled Cambridge
Spies. Earlier still it was aired
on England’s Channel Four in
the no less deplorable program
entitled The Traitor King ...
King George VI in August
1945 allegedly entrusted
Anthony Blunt with a secret
mission to the Friedrichshof
near Frankfurt to retrieve
documents incriminating the
Duke. As a result of its success
Blunt was said to have gained
immunity from prosecution
as a spy by threatening to
reveal all he knew. As Blunt’s
biographer Miranda Carter
stated, conspiracy theories
of this kind “hardly bear
scrutiny”.
In fact the King, in
authorising this mission, had
no reason even to suspect that
documents of that character
were held there. The mission,
which the press reported, was
undertaken on the initiative
of the Librarian of Windsor
Castle, Sir Owen Morshead,
whose well-founded concern
was that the US occupation
forces might purloin some
4000 letters of Queen Victoria
to her eldest child the Empress
Frederick. Blunt, the Surveyor
of the King’s Pictures since
April 1945, was co-opted
as Morshead’s subordinate
because of his fluency in
German. The documents they
were seeking were secured
and stored at Windsor until it
was decided in 1951 that they
could be safely returned to the
Friedrichshof. No document
concerning the Duke of
Windsor was retrieved.
In 1956 the Queen appointed
Blunt a Knight Commander of the
Royal Victorian Order (KCVO)
which was a customary award
for senior members of the Royal
Household who had given long
service. It is a grotesque fantasy to
claim that this award was extracted
with menaces.
Blunt’s confession was made
in 1964, not 1963 as Jonas states.
The Palace was informed of it and
the Queen’s Private Secretary, Sir
Michael (later Lord) Adeane was
advised by MI5 that Blunt should
be left where he was. He retired
from the position of Surveyor
of the Queen’s Pictures in 1972
some years after Adeane’s successor, Sir Martin Charteris (later
Lord Charteris of Amisfield),
had blocked Blunt’s promotion to
Knight Grand Cross (GCVO).
In reference to Blunt’s exposure in 1979, MI5 advised that it
be postponed until after his death.
The Prime Minister, Margaret
Thatcher, rejected this advice on
the advice of the Attorney-General,
Sir Michael (later Lord) Havers.
J.B. Paul
Bellevue Hill, NSW
The ISIS Threat
SIR: The recent article by Graham
Wood in the Atlantic on the ISIS
threat and its structure gives us a
reasonably coherent picture of their
beliefs and operating methods. It
also gives a clear picture about the
threat to Western society.
At this time, ISIS’s capabilities do not extend to major foreign
action or any type of effective aerial
warfare and as such do not represent an immediate physical threat to
most Western countries, other than
a move into southern Europe via
Turkey or similar areas. However,
their immediate aim seems to be to
occupy Islamic nations and impose
their version of Islam.
ISIS will not for some time be a
physical threat to the USA, China,
India, and other major non-Muslim
countries, other than by encouraging individual converts to carry out
terrorist attracts on their home soil.
Why such a brutal and repressive version of Islam would be
attractive is difficult for Western
society to understand, but it clearly
has an attraction for a percentage
of the Middle East population and
disaffected members of Muslim
society in some Western countries.
Much of the Middle East is
undergoing a revolution of both
religion and forms of democratisation that we might not recognise as
such, but which represents a huge
Quadrant April 2015
leap towards lifestyles much closer
to those in the West. The internet and mobile phones have created both international awareness
of more desirable lifestyles and
personal freedoms that are creating pressures on governments to
respond.
ISIS is infiltrating these countries. Therefore the real responsibility to crush ISIS falls on the
Middle East nations. The West may
help with support, but the thrust
and eventual victories must come
from the Middle East nations. If
Islam as a religion for modern societies is to survive it has to be able
to protect itself from its extremists
and keep them minimised, as has
happened in the West.
There is a great opportunity
for the Middle East nations to use
this common enemy to create a
situation where the two versions of
Islam, Sunni and Shiite, can peacefully co-exist, as the different versions of Christianity do in Western
society. The recent actions of the
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah
el-Sisi are an encouraging sign
in that direction. Otherwise the
Middle East will become dependent on the West for help in solving
local problems and remain a backwater of the world.
Tony Caldersmith
via e-mail
The New Clerisy
SIR: I recently noticed an entry
(“posting”) on Facebook about a
project called “Close the Gap”. This
is an enterprise of Oxfam, started
in 2006, which aims to improve the
plight of Australian Aborigines.
The fact is that Aborigines on the
average suffer poorer health, lower
education, higher unemployment
and worse housing conditions
than other Australians. Oxfam
states that the root causes of this
scandalous state of affairs are 200
years of dispossession, racism and
discrimination.
3
Letters
These causes being patently
nonsensical, I decided to add
my opinion. My response, on
Facebook too, was to comment that
the root cause of the problem was
Aboriginal culture itself, and that
we can only close the gap by getting rid of the more violent aspects
of their culture, or by allowing
them to carry on in special areas (as
up north). You can’t, I suggested,
have rule of law and a stone age
culture together.
This rather mild statement
raised such fury and venom that it
quite stunned me. Some forty postings came my way of this kind, and
when I looked at their senders’ profiles I found that they were associated with environmental, feminist,
gay and other such causes. That is,
the Left, not as a political apparatus or a rational position, but as a
visceral reflex.
The one characteristic of all
their replies was that none of them
attempted to discuss my contribution, but went straight to attack. It
was as if I had uttered a blasphemy
of the most disgusting kind.
I realised that I had queried the
basic tenet of what is now a fully
grown cult, in which the believers
have invested an enormous amount
of emotional capital. In more traditional religious terms, I was putting
their salvation in doubt.
One thinks of the very similar violence of reaction in fundamentalist Muslims, who have the
perfect riposte to any criticism:
decapitation. My admirers too
wanted, I realised, just to shut me
up, and as soon as possible. Was it
because they were telling such huge
lies about the world around us and
could not defend themselves rationally? In their case, however, truth is
purely and simply whatever favours
the Cause. Very much the communist position, if you remember,
but these exaltés of aboriginality
and the rest are not communists as
far as I can tell. Nor are they even
“useful fools” and fellow travellers.
They are a force in their own right
4
and hold sway in whole sections of
our (middle-class) population.
We have only recently had the
shock of realising how easy it is for
jihad to spring up in the streets of
our own cities in the West. Now
it seems it isn’t just imported,
homicidal levantine broodings
that we have to worry about. The
phenomenon is right here in its
own right, often in some of the
better suburbs.
Why has this group arisen?
While this is just a sketch and the
topic is worthy of a whole book,
one can see a few causes straight
off.
One is that we have always
had a puritan, dictatorial streak
in British society, going back to
Cromwell and his merry men. The
1960s and the 1970s tapped quite
heavily at times into this righteous,
elitist stratum. (Remember Pete
Seeger? Peter, Paul and Mary? Bob
Dylan?)
Another cause could be that the
dismantling of the nuclear family
has now gone on so long that we have
several generations of Australians
who are under-parented, especially
under-fathered, and very angry
with the world. Hence the constant
rant against patriarchy. Everything
that our parents worked to produce
is suspect, and the deep hatred of
soldiers and guns and our armed
forces is indication enough, if proof
were needed, as is the automatic
condemnation of our factories, our
mines, our farms. Self-hate here
becomes a deep and abiding hatred
of society itself, a need to sabotage,
demolish and destroy, an apocalyptic nihilism towards our very
nation.
Who then are these people?
Peter Murphy in his article in
the March Quadrant analyses the
weakening of middle-class America
and makes a useful suggestion. It is
that the upper levels of the middle
class have become a group of their
own which he calls the clerisy, and
that this group is now dominating
our polity. It operates through the
Quadrant April 2015
media, entertainment, government,
universities and corporations, in the
main, has a huge collective income
and an enormous say in how we
think about the world around us.
It is a group which however produces very little. Rather it simply
passes favours and jobs and grants
around among its own members,
lives on our taxes, and also fosters
various politically correct causes,
such as global warming, aboriginality, gay rights, feminism, population control. At the same time, as
money and control shift upward,
less money or jobs are available to
the working classes (I simplify my
terms) and to the lower end of the
middle class, which as a result is
steadily sinking. The middle class
is being hollowed out.
But the demolition is not simply economic and structural, it is
ideological. In each of the politically correct causes I name above,
one sees a special privileging of this
or that group, and a corresponding
disenfranchising of the common
people. More, the target group
lucky enough to be given victim
status is seen as the repository of
all virtue and the rest of us are bigoted, racist, insincere, hypocritical
and even homicidal slobs. We have,
effectively, no rights. Thus when
the Righteous, or their slightly
psychotic spokespersons, speak to
us, it is with violence and extreme
rudeness. We are worthy only of
their greatest contempt.
I refrain from making tempting comparisons with Nazism or
communism. What is, however,
clear is that the new ideologies are
essentially totalitarian, in that the
Cause (in its various forms) trumps
any concerns for justice, legality, decency, basic rights or indeed
even for reality itself. Those who
hold such a card (the Idea of the
ideology) are therefore empowered
to do whatever they want, potentially, and have the right to probe
deep into our private lives. Under
sharia law we would be deprived of
freedom of religion. Under the rule
Letters
of the clerisy we are being deprived
of freedom to even think, or feel
independently. As in any totalitarian set-up, all our loyalties not
aimed at the Cause are suspect and
to be eliminated. Our children, our
spouses, our pets, our churches, our
pubs, in fact all that makes up civil
society, has to go, has to be legislated out of existence. We have of
course already travelled far down
that path and the all-intrusive voice
of the media has been of enormous
help in moving us there.
As for the old totalitarian systems, in my opinion their managers were rank amateurs compared
to the contemporary political correct. Our basic grasp of reality is at
stake now, and perhaps, therefore,
we should seriously question the
ideas by which we negotiate the
world around us, in particular that
part we call our nation, for I feel
that it is well on the way to being
thoroughly demolished.
Peter Gilet
Belmont, WA
veteran (he was awarded an MBE
for bravery on the Western Front)
who was called back to serve in
Army Intelligence in the Second
World War, had become a teacher.
As with many teachers, then and
now, he was a supporter of the
Labor Party. This allegiance caused
a serious rift with his brother
Harry, who had lost an arm at
Gallipoli and who went into private enterprise after the war, running a corner store.
After trades training through
CRTS, veterans sought my father’s
help in getting jobs. The unions in
Western Australia refused to admit
these men to their ranks and fiercely
protected the jobs of members who
had not seen war service. My father
was incensed, to the extent that his
political views did a right turn.
Harry was delighted Dad had
seen the light and, after accepting
a sincere apology, the brothers were
reunited.
Joan Stanbury
Noosa, Qld
Union Influence
Chosen Paths
SIR: In Peter Ryan’s article
“Curtin, Chif ley and Whitlam”
(January-February 2015) he writes
of his debt to J.B. Chifley for his
visionary rehabilitation scheme for
returned service personnel which
“brought my university place years
closer than my peace-time prospects would ever had suggested
likely”. He refers, of course, to the
Commonwealth Reconstruction
Training Scheme (CRTS), of
which my father, Ernest Borland
Stanbury, was Supervisor in
Western Australia.
My father, a First World War
Sir: What a pleasure to read Nana
Ollerenshaw’s tribute to Robert
Frost (January-February 2015). I
share her gratitude for “The Road
Not Taken”.
Frost himself is said to have
noted characteristically that “You
have to be careful of that one; it’s
a tricky poem—very tricky.” The
fact that it is often mistitled as
“The Road Less Traveled” helps to
underscore his point.
Frost’s poem, and his interaction with Edward Thomas which
inspired it, is about distorted perceptions, rose-coloured imagin-
ings, regret, frustration that we
cannot have all results from all our
choices, and our very human propensity to wonder not just “What
if?” but “Might it have been better?” He even plays with and
reflects our blurring of fact and
fantasy as the paths were “ just as
fair”, “really about the same” and
“equally lay”.
What “made all the difference”
is not the path chosen but the committed taking of that path (either
path), and not pining for the other
one. Good advice and beautifully
written.
Geoff Fletcher
Melbourne, Vic
Wendy Cope
SIR: Thank you for the very fine
poetry essay by John Whitworth
(March 2015). More please. And
thanks to him for mentioning John
Clare.
Whitworth does, however,
convey a rather misleading impression deriving from Wendy Cope’s
replies in a public question-andanswer session; as well as writing
from the heart, which she recommended to her audience, she is a
consummate practitioner in her use
of rhyme and rhythm, a craft that
she, like Schubert and his notes,
was glad to master.
Suzanne Edgar
Garran, ACT
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Council, its arts funding and advisory body.
Quadrant April 2015
5
C h r o n i cl e
J ohn O’S ulliva n
“D
ost thou not know, my son, with how top three universities and eight US and two British
little wisdom the world is governed?” is ones as the top ten, placed forty-two American and
one of those famous sayings that most twenty-two universities in other English-speaking
people can’t quite place. I couldn’t do so myself countries, three of them in Australia, in the full
until I checked with Wikipedia and discovered the list (giving the Anglosphere two-thirds of it), and
words were written (in Latin originally) by Count finished the total almost entirely with European
Oxenstierna, Chancellor of Sweden at the height ones. That holds out the prospect that the West
of its imperial power. Oxenstierna was accounted (and as James C. Bennett predicts, the Anglosphere
the greatest man of his age by contemporaries as in particular) will maintain a future lead in innovaformidable as Richelieu, Mazarin and Grotius— tion and productivity once China, Indonesia and
and a never-ending source of good advice.
other Asian and African countries have exhausted
He gave this particular piece of advice in 1648 to their “catch-up” stage of growth.
his son who, en route to the negotiations that led to
Objectively (again) the West’s main obstacle
the Peace of Westphalia, had expressed nervous- to future prosperity and power is the overhang of
ness about his diplomatic skills. In that context massive indebtedness that stands in the way of a
his father’s remark was intended to comfort and healthy recovery. Achieving a “soft landing” from
encourage. It has a slightly more chilling effect on the monetary expansion of quantitative easing
us today because almost four centuries after the without sparking either an inflationary breakout or
Peace of Westphalia brought an end to Europe’s a market crash will require skill and prudence. But
wars of religion, the world is witnessing war and these are problems of our own making—or rather
religion-tinged conflict on a massive scale. And the problems made by our governments and systems of
wider Europe we call the West seems threatened government. Which is where Count Oxenstierna
by it—by the Russo-Ukrainian war, by the advance comes in.
of ISIS, by the post-2008 fiscal crisis, by the cononsider some recent examples of government
tinuing breakdown of the euro—to the extent that
failure:
even so level-headed and prudent a writer as Greg
The 2008 fiscal crash—which is the root
Sheridan glimpses the possibility of its breakdown.
What makes this anxiety so unsettling is that cause of the West’s current low morale and ecothe West, judged objectively, is in a strong political nomic sluggishness—was prepared and sparked
and economic position in world politics. America by the successive decisions of the Clinton and
alone disposes of more military force than the rest Bush administrations to promote home ownerof the world put together. Its economy is an inno- ship among low-paid and minority Americans by
vation machine. Europe is collectively far wealthier instructing the banks to extend mortgages to those
than Russia, China or the BRIC countries (which unable to afford them. Hence the sub-prime morthave anyway fallen out of investor favour recently). gage crisis.
The current collapse of the Western alliance
A main long-standing source of Western vulnerability—its reliance on Middle Eastern and Russian system in the Middle East can be traced not only
energy supplies—has now been ameliorated by the to Bush’s Iraq War, but also to the Cairo speech by
development of fracking and the collapse of oil President Obama which offered an olive branch to
prices. And Western countries lead the world in Islam in terms that in effect embraced the Muslim
Brotherhood, alienated America’s Sunni allies in
scientific and technical innovation.
This technical lead is unlikely to change any Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and opened the door to
time soon since a recent world ranking of univer- Iran’s advance in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gulf.
The continuing crisis of the euro which is
sities by the Times Higher Education Supplement
named Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford as the impoverishing Mediterranean Europe, spreading
C
6
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chronicle
political instability and reducing growth across
the continent is the direct result of a massive
multi-government experiment, endorsed by all
the experts, to unify Europe by placing it inside a
financial straitjacket—which has turned out to be a
Shirt of Nessus, fatal to wear, agonising to remove.
None of these policies have been abandoned,
or even seriously reconsidered by the governments
that adopted them. The reason is simple. When
utopian folly establishes a program, political
embarrassment maintains it indefinitely.
serious cuts in government spending over several
election cycles. It is therefore a hard sell at best—as
the British politician Enoch Powell once said: “In
the welfare state not to take away is more blessed
than to give”—and for that reason it is likely to
be opposed by a conventionally opportunist Labor
opposition. Despite these difficulties, the program
has the broad support of the governing Coalition
from Treasurer Joe Hockey to Communications
Minister Malcolm Turnbull. It is a practical program to deal with practical realities.
Its success is being put at risk, however, not by
y final example is Australian and therefore the kind of utopian distractions that undermined
a pale shadow of the catastrophes sketched Labor, but by personal rivalries in the simple game
above, since Australia is a comparatively well- of Ins Versus Outs. Liberal rivals to the Prime
governed country even when it is badly governed. Minister and their supporters among MPs seem
Most Australian governments from Robert to be working with critics (and even enemies) of
Menzies onwards have been sensible, practical, the government in the media to undermine his
problem-solving, attuned to realities, and only leadership by an avalanche of leaks that suggest,
occasionally tempted by utopian illusions. Thus, sometimes quite falsely and even deceitfully, that
Labor governments under Hawke and Keating he is on the verge of being ousted. The prediction
began the process of moving Australia from is usually worded in the imperative mood.
economic protectionism to a regime of free
Conflicts rooted in personal ambition are an
markets and free trade. This was continued by John inevitable element in politics, of course, but they
Howard’s governments. On the whole it has been usually occur in a framework of party loyalty and
a great success, and as with Thatcher’s reforms in rules that limit their destructiveness. In this case
Britain, it represents a new consensus in politics.
a leadership spill was held which Abbott won. At
Keating lost an election despite this economic the very least the rules should prohibit another
success because he embarked upon a quixotic uto- challenge for a suitable period, say one year, unless
pian notion of re-branding Australia as an “Asian” a major issue of principle is dividing the party and
country. Such cultural makeovers almost invariably making a leadership challenge necessary for policy
fail; nations don’t change identities except under reasons.
great stress and in response to revolutionary chalThat is not the case here. Potential contenders
lenges such as defeat in war. And since Australia is Abbott, Turnbull, Bishop and Morrison are united
both culturally Anglo and reasonably content with on the budget. To be sure, there are underlying difitself, Keating’s proposal was rejected unexpectedly ferences between them on other matters, above all
but strongly—most strongly by blue-collar voters on global warming and carbon taxation, but they
who would normally lean to Labor. are not currently live disputes in Coalition poliUndeterred, both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard tics. Such issues may help to explain the media’s
embarked on their own utopian illusions in rela- pronounced hostility to Abbott, since he is on one
tion to global warming and carbon taxation. Those side in a culture war in which global warming is
illusions came with a heavy price tag in the form of a matter of religious belief to the politico-media
higher energy prices for the voters, and weakened complex. That is utopia’s contribution to this politiboth Labor leaders, enabling each to topple the cal battle.
other in turn. Aggravated by the internecine bickIt’s an important influence. But it’s secondary
ering between them, their commitment to these to the personal rivalries dividing the Liberal Party.
illusions, however wavering, alienated some of Neither explains the willingness of Liberal insidtheir strongest constituencies and distracted them ers to play along with the kind of subversion that
from immediate realities. In particular they for- only two years ago helped to destroy Labor. Both
got that economic reform is a never-ending process are helping to make the government of Australia
like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge, allowed impossible in pursuit of changing the seats around
spending programs to rise above expected revenue, the cabinet table. and left behind a growing deficit.
Count Oxenstierna might perhaps be surprised
Now the Abbott government has pledged to that the world is still governed with so little wisrestore balance to the budget in both the short and dom after four hundred years of greater experience.
long term. This commitment implies gradual but Or perhaps not.
M
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7
R ysz a r d L egu tko
Saving Liberal Democracy
from Liberal Democrats
M
y theme is the similarities between communism and liberal democracy. The idea
that such similarities exist started germinating timidly in my mind back in the 1970s, when
for the first time I managed to get out of communist
Poland to travel to the so-called West.
To my unpleasant surprise, I discovered that
many of my friends who classified themselves as
devoted supporters of liberal democracy, of a multiparty system, human rights, pluralism and everything that every liberal democrat proudly listed as
his acts of faith, displayed extraordinary meekness
and empathy towards communism. I was unpleasantly surprised because it seemed to me that every
liberal democrat’s natural and almost visceral
response to communism should be one of forthright
condemnation. A possible hypothesis came to my
mind that both attitudes—the communist and the
liberal-democratic—are linked by something more
profound, some common principles and ideals.
At the time, however, this thought seemed to be
so extravagant that I did not have the inner strength
or knowledge to explore it more deeply. But I experienced the same budding thought for the second
time in the period of post-communist Poland, right
at the very beginning of its existence in 1989.
The new liberal-democratic system began to show
symptoms which most political analysts ignored but
which some, including myself, found most disturbing. When I talk about the system, I do not solely,
or even mostly, mean an institutional structure, but
everything which makes this structure function as
it does: ideas, social practices, mores, people’s attitudes. Communism and liberal democracy proved
to be the all-unifying entities compelling their followers in how to think, what to do, how to evaluate
events, what to dream and what language to use.
They both had their orthodoxies and their models
of an ideal citizen.
Few people doubt today that communism is such
an integrated political-ideological-intellectual as
well as socio-linguistic unity. As for liberal democ8
racy, the belief still lingers that it is a system of
breathtaking diversity, consisting of communities,
groups, unorthodox types of behaviour, eccentrics,
individualists. But this belief has deviated from
reality so much that the opposite view seems now
closer to the truth. Liberal democracy is a powerful
unifying mechanism, blurring differences between
people and imposing uniformity of views, behaviour
and language.
At the beginning of the 1990s I discovered something that was not particularly difficult to discover
at the time; namely, that nascent liberal democracy
significantly narrows the range of what is permissible. Incredible as it may seem, the final year of
the decline of communism had more of the spirit
of freedom than the period after the establishment
of the new order. The widespread sense that many
doors were opening, revealing many possibilities to
pursue, soon evaporated, subdued by the new rhetoric of necessity that the liberal-democratic system
brought with itself. It did not take me long to make
another, more depressing discovery, namely that this
unifying tendency was not limited to the post-communist world, and did not result from its peculiarities. One could see the adverse effects throughout
Western civilisation.
My subsequent experience in the European
Parliament only endorsed my diagnosis. While
there, I saw up close something that escapes the
attention of many distant observers. If the European
Parliament is supposed to be the emanation of the
spirit of today’s liberal democracy, then this spirit
is certainly neither good nor beautiful. It has many
bad and ugly features, some of which, unfortunately,
it shares with the spirit of communism. Even a preliminary contact with EU institutions allows one
to feel a stifling atmosphere typical of a political
monopoly, to see the destruction of language turning into a new form of newspeak, to observe the
creation of a surreality, mostly ideological, that
obfuscates the real world, to be a witness to an
uncompromising hostility against dissidents, and
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Saving Liberal Democracy from Liberal Democrats
to notice many other things only too familiar to the whole; at first, of one society: Russian, Polish
anyone who remembers the world governed by the and German; and in the long haul, of the whole of
Communist Party.
humanity.
Yet there would seem to be an irrefutable arguFrom the perspective of historicism any oppoment against such thoughts. How can one possibly sition to this process was extremely harmful to
compare the two systems, one of which was crimi- humanity and inconceivably stupid. What the
nal, while the other, in spite of all the objections, enemy of progress defended was by definition hopegives people a lot of freedom and institutional pro- lessly parochial, limited to one class, decadent,
tection? Surely, the difference between the people’s anachronistic, historically outdated and degenerate,
republic and the democratic republic of today is so and sooner or later had to give way to something
vast that only an insane person would deny it?
that was universal, necessary and inclusive of the
In such a formulation the argument is, of course, whole of humanity. It was obvious to any open mind
irrefutable and no reasonable person would question that history had to grant victory to communists and
it. But at the same time what it says should not be that all they had to do was wait. Communist artused for intellectual and moral blackmail. Whatever ists and intellectuals produced countless treatises,
fundamental differences exist between the two sys- novels, films and plays showing how the new times
tems, it is perfectly legitimate to ask why there are condemned the enemies of communism to the dustalso some similarities, and why
bin of history and how the armies
they are so profound and becoming
of socialism marched to their final
more so. One cannot dismiss them
iberal democracy victory. The average citizen of a
with an argument that since the
communist country had only to
is a powerful
liberal-democratic system as such is
take a look at a newspaper or turn
clearly superior to communism, the unifying mechanism, on the radio to be convinced of this
existing similarities are absolved or
blurring differences implacable truth.
explained away by the mere fact of
What did such language mean in
between people and practice? First of all, it was a signal
this superiority. Since liberal democrats are so fond of warning against imposing uniformity that everything and everyone was
all sorts of abstract dangers that
in “building socialism” and
of views, behaviour involved
might undermine the liberal-demthat it was not possible to evade this
and language.
ocratic order—such as xenophobia,
task; the person who dodged the
nationalism, intolerance or reliduty could reasonably be suspected
gious bigotry—one wonders why
of stupidity or bad intentions, and
the same liberal democrats completely ignore those usually of both. Even relatively independent organidangers that are easy to spot, namely, the increas- sations—and these were few—had to submit, reging presence of developments similar to those that ularly, ​​various kinds of declarations to prove that
existed in communist societies.
they also were participating in the work according
to the best of their abilities and that they certainly
ne of the similarities between communism and appreciated the value of the project. Sometimes
liberal democracy is their perception of his- this meant—especially in the beginning—a raditory. The concept of history in which communism cal restructuring that would change everything in
was its culmination was not a mere succession of society. Such was the experience of the universities,
political regimes. History covered the entirety of schools and all organisations which, when restruchuman experience including human nature, human tured in accordance with the nature of the commumind, social relations, law, institutions, and even nist system, lost their heritage and acquired a new
science and art. The group that took responsibility function and a new identity.
for change was clearly, at the beginning, a partiFor all of us living in the “camp of socialist
san group, almost marginal in the existing political countries”, history was already determined. The
system, but which, in the process of approaching reconstruction of the old bourgeois structures could
the final stage of history, grew in importance and not be expected because the eggs from which the
finally became the only political actor capable of omelette had been made had disappeared long ago.
pulling together and transforming—whether grad- Rather, one had to look for a place in the new comually or radically, peacefully or by force—everyone munist structures, alleviate and adapt them to the
and everything, and to elevate the human species elementary requirements of reason. And even if
to new, previously unknown levels. Something that capitalist-bourgeois elements were to appear from
in the past had been a segment, a party or a faction time to time as necessary concessions in order to
was granted the status of midwife and architect of save the country from disaster, they still had to have
L
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Saving Liberal Democracy from Liberal Democrats
a socialist label.
Liberal democracy has never had an official concept of history that could be attributed to a particular author. It does not have its Marx, Lenin
and Lukács. Nevertheless, from the very beginning, the liberals and the democrats made use of a
typical historical pattern by which they were easily
recognised and which often appeared not only in a
variety of general opinions which they formulated
but also, on a less abstract level, in popular beliefs
and stereotypes professed to be a representation
of liberal thinking in mass circulation. According
to this view, the history of the world—in the case
of liberalism—was the history of the struggle for
freedom against its enemies who were different at
various stages of history but who ​​perpetually fought
against the idea of freedom itself and—in the case
of democracy—a history of continuing struggle
for people’s power against all forces that kept the
same people in subservience for centuries. Both of
these political currents, liberal and democratic, had
therefore one enemy, which was a widely understood
tyranny, but which, in the long history of humanity, assumed a variety of additional, distinctive costumes. Every now and then it was a monarchy, often
the Church, and at other times oligarchy.
Over the past two hundred years or so the concepts of communism, liberalism and democracy
have evolved under the pressure of reality, political
struggles for power, and the search for new, efficient
ideological instruments to mobilise public opinion.
It seems beyond doubt however that the first two
views—that history has a unilateral pattern and
that a better world is shaped by conscious human
activity—are still very much present in the modern
political mind.
Of course, few talk of the laws of history today,
mainly because this quasi-scientific language lost
its appeal in an age when the concept of science
changed. Nevertheless, both the communists and
the liberal democrats have always upheld, and continue to uphold, the view that history is on their
side. Whoever thought that the collapse of the
Soviet system should have done away with the belief
in the inevitability of socialism was disappointed.
This belief is as strong as ever and the past practices of socialism—whether Soviet or Western—are
well appreciated, not because they were beneficial
in themselves, but because they are still believed
to have represented the correct direction of social
change. One can observe a similar mindset among
the liberal democrats, who are also deeply convinced
that they represent both the inherent dynamics of
social development and a natural tendency in human
aspirations.
Both the communists and liberal democrats,
10
while praising what is inevitable and objectively
necessary in history, praise at the same time the
free activities of parties, associations, community
groups and organisations, in which, as they believe,
what is inevitable and objectively necessary reveals
itself. Both speak fondly of people at large and of
large social movements, while at the same time—
like Kant who, while predicting the final triumph
of humanity, praised the enlightened absolutism of
the Prussian king—they have no qualms in destroying social spontaneity in order to accelerate social
reconstruction.
Admittedly, for the liberal democrats, the combination of the two threads is intellectually more
awkward than for the socialists. The very idea of ​​
liberal democracy should presuppose freedom of
action, which means every man and every group
or party should be free to pursue what they want.
And yet the letter, the spirit and the practice of
liberal-democratic doctrine are far more restrictive:
so long as society pursues the path of modernisation, it must follow the liberal-democratic path,
whereby the programs of action and targets other
than liberal-democratic lose their legitimacy. The
need for building a liberal-democratic society thus
implies the withdrawal of the guarantee of freedom
for those whose actions and interests are said to be
hostile to what the liberal democrats conceive as the
cause of freedom.
Thus the adoption of the historical preference of
liberal democracy makes the resulting conclusion
analogous to that which the communists drew from
the belief in the historical privilege of their system:
everything that exists in society must become liberal-democratic over time and be imbued with the
spirit of the system. As once in socialism/communism, where everything had do be socialist/communist and all major designations had to be preceded
by the adjective “socialist” or “communist” (“socialist” was preferable because it sounded less Soviet)
so now everything should be liberal, democratic
or liberal-democratic, and this labelling gives the
recipient credibility and respectability. Conversely,
a refusal to use such a designation or, which is even
worse, an explicit rejection of it, condemns one to
moral degradation, merciless criticism and, ultimately, historical annihilation.
C
ountries emerging from communism provided striking evidence in this regard. Belief
in the “normalcy” of liberal democracy, or, in other
words, the view that this system delineates the only
accepted course and method of organising collective life, is particularly strong, a corollary of it being
that in the line of development the United States
and Western Europe are at the forefront while we,
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Saving Liberal Democracy from Liberal Democrats
the East Europeans, are in the back; the optimal who represents what is historically indefensible and
process should progress in the manner that the moribund? Debating with non-liberal-democrats is
countries in the back catch up with those at the like debating with alchemists or geocentrists—they
forefront, repeating their experience, implementing are to be condemned and laughed at, not debated.
their solutions and struggling with the same chalWhen the liberal democrats use the words debate
lenges. Not surprisingly, there immediately emerged and deliberation, they have in mind a political ritual
a group of self-proclaimed eloquent accoucheurs within the liberal-democratic orthodoxy. Again,
of the new system, who from the position of the an analogy with communism immediately comes
enlightened few, took upon themselves the duty of to mind. The opponents of communism, such as
indicating the direction of change and infusing a those who believed free markets to be superior to
new liberal-democratic awareness into anachronistic the planned economy, were at best enemies to be
minds. They were, one would be tempted to say, the crushed, or a laughing stock to be humiliated: how
Kantian Prussian kings of liberal democracy, fortu- else could any reasonable man react to such anachnately devoid of a comparable power, but undoubt- ronistic, dangerous ravings of a deluded mind?
edly seeing themselves as having a
After all, in a liberal democracy
similar role as the pioneers of the
everyone knows, and only a fool or
enlightened future.
hy should anyone a fanatic can deny, that sooner or
In their view—which today is
later a family will have to liberalseriously debate
also consciously or unconsciously
ise or democratise, which means
with an opponent that their parental authority has to
professed by millions—the political system should permeate every
crumble, the children will liberwho represents
section of public and private life,
ate themselves from parental tutewhat is historically lage, and family relationships will
analogously to the view of the erstwhile accoucheurs of the communist
become more negotiational and less
indefensible and
system. Not only should the state
authoritarian. These are the ineviand the economy be liberal, demo- moribund? Debating table consequence of civilisational
cratic or liberal-democratic, but the
and political development, giving
with non-liberalentire society as well, including
people
more and more opportunidemocrats is like
ethics and mores, family, churches,
ties for independence; moreover,
debating with
schools, universities, community
these processes are essentially good
organisations, culture and even
and beneficial because they enhance
alchemists or
human sentiments and aspirations.
equality and freedom in the world.
geocentrists—they
Whoever and whatever does not
Thus there is no legitimate reaconform, does not deserve to exist.
son
to defend the traditional famare to be condemned
The people, structures, thoughts
ily—the very name evokes the
and laughed at,
that exist outside the liberal-demosmell of mothballs—and whoever
not debated.
cratic pattern are deemed outdated,
does it condemns himself to a losbackward-looking, useless, but at
ing position and in addition perthe same time extremely dangerous
petrates a lot of harm by delaying
as preserving the remnants of old authoritarianisms. the process of change. The traditional family was,
Some may still be tolerated for a while, but as any- after all, part of the old despotism: with its demise
one with a minimum of intelligence is believed to the despotic system loses its base. The liberalisation
know, sooner or later they will end up in the dust- and democratisation of the family are therefore to
bin of history. Their continued existence will most be supported—wholeheartedly and energetically—
likely threaten the liberal-democratic progress and mainly by legislation which will give children more
therefore they should be treated with the harshness power, for example, allowing increasingly younger
they deserve.
girls to have abortions without parental consent, or
providing children with legal instruments to purnce one sends one’s opponents to the dustbin sue their claims against their parents, or depriving
of history, any debate with them becomes parents of their rights and transferring those rights
superfluous. Why waste time arguing with someone to the government and the courts. Sometimes, to
whom the march of history has condemned to be sure, all of that can lead to excessive measures
oblivion? The liberal democrats love and worship perpetrated by the state, the law and public opinsuch words as debate and deliberation, but they ion, but the general tendency is good and there is
use them mostly for ornamental purposes. Why no turning back from it.
should anyone seriously debate with an opponent
Similarly, in a liberal democracy everyone
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Saving Liberal Democracy from Liberal Democrats
knows, and only a fool or a fanatic can deny, that
schools have to become more and more liberal and
democratic—for similar reasons as the family—and,
again, this inevitable process requires that the state,
the law and public opinion act severely against all
stragglers—those who are trying to put a stick in
the spokes of progress, dreamers who imagine that
in the twenty-first century we can return to the
school as it existed in the nineteenth century, pests
who want to build an old-time museum in a world
rushing forward. And so on, and so forth. Similar
reasoning can be applied to churches, communities,
associations.
A
s a result, liberal democracy has become an allpermeating system. There is none, or in any case
there cannot be, any segment of reality that would
be arguably and acceptably non-liberal-democratic.
Whatever happens in school must follow the same
pattern as in politics, in politics the same pattern as
in art, and in art the same pattern as in the economy: the same problems, the same mechanisms,
the same type of thinking, the same language and
the same habits. Just as in real socialism so in real
democracy it is difficult to find some non-doctrinal
slice of the world, a non-doctrinal image, narrative,
tone or thought.
In a way, liberal democracy presents a more
insidious ideological mystification than communism. Under communism it was clear that communism was to prevail in every cell of social life, and
that the Communist Party was empowered with
the instruments of brutal coercion and propaganda
to get the job done. Under liberal democracy such
official guardians of constitutional doctrine do not
exist, which, paradoxically, makes the overarching nature of the system less tangible, but at the
same time more profound and difficult to reverse.
It is the people themselves who have eventually
come to accept, often on a pre-intellectual level,
that eliminating the institutions incompatible with
liberal-democratic principles constitutes a wise and
necessary step.
Forty years ago, when the period of liberaldemocratic monopoly was fast approaching, Daniel
Bell, one of the then popular social writers, set forth
the thesis that a modern society is characterised by the
disjunction of three realms—social, economic and
political. They develop—so he claimed—at different
rates, have different dynamics and purposes and are
subject to different mechanisms and influences. This
image of structural diversity that Bell saw coming
was attractive, or rather would have been attractive
if true. But the opposite happened. No disjunction
occurred. Rather, everything came to be joined
under the liberal-democratic formula: the economy,
politics and society, and—as it turns out—culture.
Ryszard Legutko is a philosopher and politician,
Member of the European Parliament, professor of
philosophy at Cracow University, and a former Polish
Minister of Education. His book on the post-communist
evolution of liberal democracy will be published later
this year by Encounter Books, New York.
If Only
You’re hearing the future’s
all about local communities
coming together, avowing
to work for the common good,
and the wind in the trees
huffs if only, and the trickle
from a backwater chuckles,
not much of a current thus far.
It’s been a mostly sunny
early summer’s day, and
the sparse sampling of clouds
disporting over the mountains
in the last of the sunshine
suggest communion’s fine
when there’s no coercion
to speak of, and on my stereo
Mahler’s 4th’s richly melodic,
the way one feels when in love
with whom- or whatever,
past and present, and you’re
moved to the point where,
bashful, you fight back tears
every time you think, if only.
12
Quadrant April 2015
Brian Turner
Oh Moon
Pure
multiple in shape and mood, I can’t resist you
as slip of an eel with tips longing to touch and kiss, as your serene rounded self queening
the measureless iris-blue that’s only
an optical illusion, as an orange sun hung low in the sky and heralding cornucopia,
as Salome in swirling veils and slowly emerging
to light up menacing passageways. Oh moon,
ferrier of calm to those enduring pain
in tousled beds, lean over the homeless
lying in sweaty tents, search out the terrified
who’ve fled to the mountains where they ward off
cold at night by huddling in crevices to sleep,
bring them your silvergold bracelets of hope.
The silk spun from a worm,
the sea’s forget-me-not blue, a newly
born human unmarked by the world,
the word queening a hoarding
and slyly inserted in the caption underneath:
A Life of Pure Style and Indulgence.
To whet
the appetite a photo of a room juts into sky.
I note the polished floor, slender-legged lamps, faux leather furniture, insistent wall screen,
picture window—no welcoming pet,
pot plant, teapot, open book.
What’s pure,
I ask the paving stones, about stirring up desire
to wine and dine expensively while watching
pulp TV in a room concocted in an office
by a designer who knows exactly
how to tempt today’s buyers?
What’s pure,
I ask a litter bin, about a set of apartments
opposite a car park next to a station fronted
by a pull-in for buses, a set of apartments
which rubs shoulders with the rail track and faces
a street where vehicles queue to join
a manic motorway?
What’s pure
I ask a lamp post about twisting the meaning
out of yet another word? Think: nice, pretty,
awesome, devastating, precisely, each lifeless
as a mouse the cat’s finished with.
Pure! the word
tolls as I leave the judder in the main road
and trot down to the park, rest my eyes
on trees offering the froth of blossom,
stare at the clot of log, plastic wrappers,
wire coils, chucked cans and lumps of paper
which are jamming the Brook.
Quadrant April 2015
Myra Schneider
13
H enry O lsen
Getting No Respect
Blue-Collar Voters in the Anglosphere
A
spectre is haunting the developed world—
the spectre of working-class discontent. All
of the West’s established political parties—
Conservative and Labour, Christian Democrat and
the Left, Green and Liberal—are inclined against
it. And yet it continues to grow and gather steam,
fracturing and reordering politics in virtually every
country.
If this seems melodramatic, consider the facts.
Working-class-based protest parties now garner
between 10 and 25 per cent of the vote in Denmark,
Sweden, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, France,
Switzerland, Italy and Austria. UKIP looks poised
to break 15 per cent of the vote in the UK general
election next month, and Germany’s AfD is polling
above the 5 per cent threshold needed to enter the
Bundestag.
The Anglosphere has not been immune to this
trend. Australia’s governing Liberal-National coalition rode working-class discontent with Labor to a
massive victory in 2013, and the governing centreRight parties in New Zealand and Canada, National
and the Conservatives, have achieved their majorities by a similar focus. Even the United States, whose
exclusively two-party politics is unique among the
large developed countries, approaches its 2016 presidential election with all major candidates conspicuously competing for working-class white voters.
In Europe, this trend has led to political convergence between traditionally centre-Left and centreRight parties. Both sets of parties find elements of
the working-class agenda unacceptable, especially
the opposition to the EU and immigration. These
countries’ proportional representation systems thus
give working-class parties a voice, but the subsequent formation of a governing coalition leaves
them out in the cold.
This option is not available, however, in the
Anglosphere. The Anglosphere’s reliance on districtbased elections means working-class concerns cannot be ignored. Centre-Right parties must choose:
either adapt to woo the educated, urban greens and
14
social democrats, or adapt to woo the newly disaffected workers.
Australia’s Liberal Party is currently mired in an
internal controversy that is, in effect, simply a version
of this worldwide debate. For all the mistakes the
Abbott government has made, the Liberals should
resist the temptation to adopt the urban, greentinged strategy. That approach ignores Australian
political history, which shows that the Coalition
can win only when it splits disaffected working-class
voters from Labor. It also ignores the cautionary tale
from the United Kingdom, where David Cameron’s
determined ten-year effort to rebrand the Tories as
the party of the modern educated person has dismally failed.
W
orking-class discontent everywhere has
unique national aspects, but virtually all of
its national expressions share a few defining characteristics: opposition to immigration, distrust of or
opposition to multi-national entities like the EU,
support for the traditional family unit, tougher
approaches to crime, and a blend of tax cuts and
spending hikes. Most observers find these parties or movements confusing, as their demands do
not fall neatly within the traditional Right–Left
debate. That debate, however, is chiefly focused on
the legitimacy of government power. Working-class
demands are quite consistent with one another if
the debate is viewed through another angle, that of
justice.
The workers want three things: comfort, dignity
and respect. They want to be considered the equals
of those better educated and better off: they do not
want to be patronised or have their lives planned
for them, whether by bosses or bureaucrats. They
want the opportunity to succeed on their own
terms, which for most means living a quiet life with
family, friends and non-demeaning work. They
want economic help to give them the means to
advance, which translates into support for quality
education. They also want assistance to navigate the
Quadrant April 2015
Getting No Respect
vicissitudes of the business cycle, which means an
extensive welfare state. Finally, they want not to
have to worry that they will die or fall into penury
if they cannot work, whether by accident or through
old age. That translates into pensions, health-care
subsidies and disability schemes that prevent people
who work hard and play by the rules from sinking
into poverty.
Together, these policies give the working class
the comfort and dignity they desire. The final key
to understanding their psyche—respect—can best
be understood by the phrase “work hard and play
by the rules”. If public sentiment values work and
playing fairly over results, then the working class
feel their lives are respected. Giving financial support to those who don’t work or don’t play by the
rules means the sacrifices the working class make
are disrespected in favour of people who seem not
to have earned what they receive.
This attitude extends upward and downward in
the socio-economic spectrum. Immigrants or refugees who are given material benefits or are favoured
for employment without having previously participated in national life are viewed as undeserving by
the working class. So too are people with higher
socio-economic status who obtain their wealth
from social contacts or taxpayer bailouts rather than
enterprise and work. Workers who are given comfort, dignity and
respect will support centre-Right parties even if
other elements of those parties’ agendas are not
their priorities. Thus, they will support lower taxes
for corporations and the well off, so long as the cuts
do not come at the expense of programs they value.
They will support higher defence spending and vigorous participation in international alliances. They
will support smaller growth in government spending and economic modernisation that does not
unduly threaten their comfort, dignity or respect.
Australian and British political history demonstrates how important these working-class voters
are to political success, especially in the last twenty
years as attitudes since the fall of the Berlin Wall
have made upper-income voters less afraid of supporting the centre-Left.
A
ustralia’s Coalition has relied on workingclass voters to win national elections since
1955, when an anti-communist, largely Catholic
group split from the ALP to form a new party.
This entity became known as the Democratic Labor
Party, and it regularly directed its preferences to the
Coalition throughout its existence. So supported,
the Coalition won every federal election until 1972
even though the ALP usually had significantly more
first-preference votes.
The DLP’s policies were a forerunner of today’s
working-class movements. It was strongly supportive of domestic welfare-state spending, but also
strongly supportive of anti-communist foreign and
defence policies. In power, the Coalition did not
remove those welfare-state measures then extant but
were not forced by the DLP to make swift increases
either. Instead, the DLP and the Coalition compromised, the DLP getting a strong anti-communist
foreign policy and support for Catholic priorities in
return for its preferences.
Australian politics changed when the second
major element of modern politics, the leftward trend
among the educated elite, started. When the ALP
moderated its 1940s-era socialism and resistance to
anti-communism, support for the DLP began to
ebb. Simultaneously, disaffected Liberals formed
the Australia Party, which directed its preferences
to the ALP. The ALP won nearly every federal election between 1970 and 1995, losing only from 1975 to
1980 after the removal of Prime Minister Whitlam
by the Governor-General. No longer hurt by working-class disaffection, they won on the strength
of preferences from the elite-backed Australian
Democrats, the successor to the Australia Party,
who supported environmentalism, social liberalism
and non-Thatcherite economics.
The Coalition’s return to power came when John
Howard forged a modern version of the Menzies-era
strategy of splitting the working-class vote. Howard
directed the gains from Australia’s private-sectorled economic boom into targeted subsidies for the
working class to purchase private sector health-care
insurance and send their kids to non-state schools.
Under his leadership, the Coalition also increased
payments for children in working-class families
and opposed unlimited settlement for refugees.
The Coalition won four consecutive elections with
support from the group that became known as
“Howard’s battlers”.
The Coalition lost when it broke faith with those
voters through its promotion of the WorkChoices
legislation. While the program sensibly reduced the
power of labour unions and gave management more
flexibility in dismissing workers, it angered the battlers because it seemed to unnecessarily reduce their
job security. The Coalition lost the 2007 election
largely on this issue, despite an unprecedented sixteen years of continued economic growth.
As Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott led the
Coalition to a quick resurgence by adapting Howard’s
basic model. Abbott insisted that the Coalition
oppose the ALP’s carbon emissions scheme, despite
internal opposition, in order to split working-class
voters—who would pay much more for electricity
under the plan—from the Greens-backed ALP
Quadrant April 2015
15
Getting No Respect
government. He also refused to allow conscience
votes on same-sex marriage, again despite internal
opposition, a stand that found support among
backers of Family First and disgruntled workingclass voters. His insistence on “stopping the boats”
also showed the battlers that the Coalition, not the
ALP, was really on their side.
One can overstate the degree to which the
Abbott-led Coalition changed the battlers’ minds:
informal voting was up significantly in workingclass seats, suggesting many workers were unwilling
to choose between the two parties. Nevertheless,
the Coalition’s near-win in 2010 and its landslide
in 2013 would not have been possible without the
resumption of the Menzies–Howard decades-long
strategy of embracing working-class concerns.
more diverse in race and gender than previously,
and his team recruited women, blacks, Asians and
Muslims to stand in safe and key marginal seats.
The Tory rebranding was an obvious attempt to
replicate what Tony Blair had done for the Labour
Party in the mid-1990s. After Labour’s fourth
straight defeat in 1992, Blair convinced it to ditch
its long-standing, if unacted-upon, pledge to renationalise British industry. It launched a “New
Labour” campaign to show Britons that they could
be socially liberal, support private-sector wealth
creation, and vote Labour. Cameron’s strategy was
effectively an attempt to show these voters that they
could have that combination with the Tory Party
too.
One can see more clearly what Cameron was
trying to do if one looks at British electoral hisany Liberals remain unconvinced, prefer- tory through the lens of class. Ipsos-Mori has pubring the party to move to the centre on these lished a summary of British voting habits from
issues in an attempt to gain supthe October 1974 election, won by
port among the less-leftist urban,
Harold Wilson’s Labour Party,
younger voters who have been
orkers who are through to the last election in 2010.
tempted to back the Greens or the
It shows that the Tories regularly
given comfort, dignity won
ALP. In effect, they support the
over half of the upper and
and respect will
same strategy employed by David
middle-class vote (known in British
Cameron to modernise Britain’s support centre-Right social science as the ABC1 class)
Conservative Party. The results of
from 1974 through to the last Tory
parties even if other win in 1992. That share dropped
Cameron’s experiment, though,
suggest such a move is unlikely to
precipitously to 39 per cent in 1997,
elements of those
succeed.
and continued to drop to a mere 37
parties’ agendas are per
Cameron assumed the Tory
cent in 2005. The Labour share
leadership after the venerable party
not their priorities. of the ABC1 vote increased from 22
had suffered its third straight electo 34 per cent in 1997, and remained
tion drubbing in 2005. Party leaders
at or above 30 per cent throughout
and members alike were impressed with an analysis Tony Blair’s prime ministership. It was not unreathat showed voters liked many of the Tories’ poli- sonable for Cameron to think that the Tories could
cies—until they were told those policies were the gain back that vote, and perhaps dig into the subTories’. Cameron and his “modernisers” decided stantial ABC1 share voting for Britain’s centrist
they had to detoxify Conservatism by showing the Liberal Democrats, if he moved the Party as he did.
Tories weren’t stuck in the 1950s or the Thatcher
Cameron’s strategy proved to be a colossal failera.
ure, however. In 2010, with a weak and hapless
They were nothing if not methodical in pur- Labour Prime Minister in Gordon Brown and
suit of their goal. Out went the Thatcher-era Tory with a collapsed economy providing wind to the
emblem, the torch of liberty coloured in the red, opposition’s sails, the Tories failed to win an absowhite and blue of the national flag. In came a shady lute majority of seats. Moreover, their share of the
tree in soft blue and green tones. The new logo ABC1 vote barely budged, increasing to only 39 per
seemed to tell Britons they could rest in comfort if cent. Labour’s share of that vote was down only
only they trusted the Tories to lead. The tree had two points and the LibDems’ share of the vote was
another implication, that the Tories would back unchanged.
green policies. Cameron’s Tories quickly became
Cameron and his advisers had overlooked the
backers of carbon emissions controls and environ- crucial role that working-class voters had played
mental protection.
in the electoral success of the Thatcher–Major era.
The new Tories also changed on family policy, The working-class vote in Britain can be broken
backing same-sex marriage and embracing mul- down into the upper working class (skilled workticultural outreach. Cameron insisted that Tory ers, known as C2s) and the lower working class and
candidates standing for parliament had to be much the poor (semi-skilled workers, known as DEs). The
M
16
W
Quadrant April 2015
Getting No Respect
Tories received only 26 per cent among C2s and 22
per cent among DEs in the 1974 race. Those totals
increased to 41 per cent and 34 per cent in 1979,
fuelling Thatcher’s landslide despite only a small
increase among the ABC1s. Moreover, C2 and
DE support remained high through four elections,
never dropping below 39 per cent among C2s and
30 per cent among DEs.
The Tories lost this support in 1997, dropping to
27 per cent among C2s and 21 per cent among DEs
in 1997. Unlike the ABC1 vote, which continued
to drop slightly through the Blair era, the Tories
started to win back some of that support under the
more rightist leadership of William Hague and
Michael Howard. Support in 2005 climbed to 33
per cent among the C2s and 25 per cent among the
DEs.
Ironically, Cameron won his plurality in 2010
largely because of shifts in the votes of these two
classes. Tory support swelled to near-Thatcher-era
levels of 37 per cent among C2s and 31 per cent
among DEs. Labour support dropped even faster,
to a mere 40 per cent among DEs and a frightening
29 per cent among C2s. Many of those voters supported two working-class third parties, the British
National Party and the UK Independence Party
(UKIP).
Today, Cameron’s Conservatives remain mired
in their post-1997 despair, currently polling around
33 per cent in the run-up to next month’s election.
That’s what the Tories received in 2005, a total considered disastrous by Cameron and his allies. Their
share of the ABC1 and C2DE vote is also roughly
equal to 2005, 39 per cent and 25 per cent. Ten years
of rebranding towards the urban centre has done
absolutely nothing to change public support for the
Conservative Party.
Polls clearly show why this is so. They find that
the biggest negative the Tories have is the idea they
are the “party of the rich”. This view drives away
socially-conscious upper-income voters and downscale working-class voters. The socially-conscious
upper-income voters remain locked in their support
for Labour and are moving towards a newly influential Green Party (although this is largely counteracted by the LibDems’ collapse). The downscale
working-class voters have now moved lockstep to
UKIP. Nearly as many C2DE voters, 22 per cent,
say they will vote for the upstart populist party as
say they will vote for the Tories. In Britain’s firstpast-the-post system with no preferences, this move
will likely cost the Tories dozens of the seats they
picked up from Labour in 2010.
This working-class desertion has surely been
reinforced by Cameron’s own upper-middle-class
(“posh”) upbringing. I visited Britain in March 2013
to see what I could learn from Cameron’s effort for
American conservatives, and met with a leading
former Tory (now independent) pollster. I mentioned that to an American ear, Cameron condescends when he speaks, making it sound as if he
expected people to be grateful for what he and the
Tories, their betters, were going to do for them. I
told the pollster it seemed he was stuck in a modern version of the old English class system, which
demanded deference from the lower classes. This
ran contrary to Thatcher’s real innovation, I said,
which was to treat Britons of all classes as equals.
The pollster responded without hesitation: he said
that when people don’t have to defer they find that
they want to. One suspects that the C2DE voters
whose support put Cameron in Number 10 would
not have agreed.
This distaste for the working class has been
echoed by many in Cameron’s world, who have
rarely been shy about calling UKIP voters “fruitcakes”, racists or representatives of “the past”. They
are entitled to their views, but by making them Tory
policy they have, in turn, made an alliance between
Labour and the Scottish National Party the likeliest outcome of next month’s election. Cameron’s
rebranding, by driving away voters who were willing to support a genuinely rebranded Tory party in
the vain pursuit of a bygone, class-based era, will
have served only to usher in the most left-wing government Britain has had since 1945.
I
ssues of social class are less important in Australia.
Nevertheless, the analogy holds. Upper-income,
educated voters not already voting for centre-Right
parties do not shift their support when those parties
move towards green and socially liberal orthodoxy.
That’s because those voters also hold centre-Left
views on economics, favouring more intervention
and social spending than do centre-Right partisans.
Working-class voters not already voting for the
centre-Left, however, will support centre-Right
views on defence and the economy provided they
are neither culturally belittled nor financially
ignored when spending cuts or restraint must be
sought. As Prime Minister, Tony Abbott has made
many mistakes, costing him and his government
support among all social classes. When considering how to move forward, however, the Liberals
should, as we say in the States, “keep their eyes on
the prize”. If they do, if they focus unrelentingly on
winning back the trust of the battler class, they will
likely be rewarded in the 2016 federal election.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at a United States thinktank, the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He studies
and comments upon electoral trends worldwide.
Quadrant April 2015
17
A nthon y Da niels
The Urgency of Truth
The Writing of Simon Leys
F
ame is not always proportional to merit: if it
were, Simon Leys (who lived the last forty
years of his life in Australia, and died last
year) would have been one of the most famous writers in the world. After his recent death I asked a
few Belgians of my acquaintance, all well-educated,
what they knew of him, their great fellow countryman: and in none of them did his name ring more
than a faint bell occasioned by having seen, but not
actually read, an obituary notice in one Belgian
newspaper or another. I do not think that Leys would have minded very
much. The communication of truth, not the achievement of fame, was his ambition, and he became sufficiently well-known to have satisfied it. Few writers
have ever conveyed so immediately, from their very
first sentence, the urgency and authority, the intellectual integrity and moral probity, with which they
speak, as did Simon Leys. And since his subject
that made him known, Maoism and the Cultural
Revolution, was one which was usually written
about from a standpoint of ignorance and dishonesty, his setting of the record straight was of considerable historical importance.
Since, as Doctor Johnson says, all judgment is
comparative, it is worth illustrating Leys’s quality as
a writer by comparison with that of J.K. Galbraith,
the celebrated Harvard economist (celebrated was a
favourite word of Galbraith’s, especially, one suspects, with reference to himself). Both men were in
China in 1972 during the Cultural Revolution, and
both wrote a book, respectively Ombres Chinoises
(Chinese Shadows) and A China Passage, about
their experiences. But that is about all they had in
common.
Leys spent six months in China as cultural
attaché to the newly-opened Belgian embassy in
Peking. He was a sinologist who had published
extremely learned works on Chinese painting and
was interested much more in civilisation than in
politics, which is perhaps why he wrote so clearsightedly about the latter. He was born Pierre
18
Ryckmans, but adopted the pseudonym of Simon
Leys to keep alive the possibility of future visas,
for the Chinese authorities of the time did not take
kindly to unfavourable comment. The choice of Leys
as a pseudonym was not random: Leys was the protagonist of a novel, René Leys, by Victor Segelen, a
doctor who became a sinophile and who, like Simon
Leys sixty years later, deplored the destruction of a
civilisation that he loved and admired, as well as the
Western attitude to China. For literary purposes, he
remained Simon Leys for the rest of his life.
Galbraith probably needs little introduction. A
man ever on the side of the angels of big government, in A China Passage he succinctly (for once)
summed up his philosophy. Referring to the spontaneous abandonment of stony farmland in the eastern United States by farmers seeking more fertile
lands elsewhere, by contrast with the happy Maoist
policy of making peasants stay put to cultivate infertile plots, he says, “The market can be ruthless as
politicians cannot.” To be fair to Galbraith, he probably hadn’t heard of the Great Leap Forward and
the ensuing famine that killed perhaps 30 million
people.
At the beginning of his book, Leys says simply:
The notes that follow are a result of my sixmonth stay in China last year.
At the beginning of his book, Galbraith says:
I’m on my way to China—the most successful of
five recent attempts—and I should be grateful
to Richard Nixon. Instead, within reasonable
limits, I propose to write down everything I hear
or think and describe everything I see or seem
to see. Instead? Is writing things down the antithesis
of being grateful to Richard Nixon? There then follows, irrelevantly, some of the most concentrated
name-dropping in the history if not of literature,
Quadrant April 2015
The Urgency of Truth
exactly, at least of printing. For Galbraith, China is
but another opportunity to exhibit himself and his
attitudes to the world; for Leys, China is an object
of love of such importance that it deserves that
nothing less than the truth should be told about it.
In the first chapter of Chinese Shadows, titled
Foreigners in the People’s Republic, Leys witheringly lays bare the vanity and stupidity of such as
Galbraith, effortlessly gulled by the Maoist state:
We all know of the misadventure of an
American journalist: like everyone else, he had
written an account of a journey in China. The
only problem was that he hadn’t been there.
The surprising thing, says Leys, is that he was
found out: for by reading such accounts, all the
same, the feeblest hack could concoct one of his own
indistinguishable from that of a person who had
actually been on an organised tour. And Galbraith,
though not specifically mentioned, was no better
than the feeblest hack: in fact worse because of his
self-conceit as a man able from the heights of his
chair at Harvard to penetrate realities hidden from
others. At every point we see how Galbraith typifies
the class of willing fool gulled by tyranny that Leys
describes with an irony that is instinct with moral
and intellectual authority:
He [the Galbraith-like visitor to China] makes
the same tour, stays in the same hotel, visits
the same institutions, meets the same people
from whom he hears the same declamations,
is offered the same banquets during which the
same speeches are made, conforming everywhere
to the same invariable and unreal ritual which
belongs neither to China nor the West, but to an
abstract universe specially conceived by Maoist
bureaucrats for the benefit of foreign guests.
Of all this, of course, Galbraith is too vain to
have any awareness. Leys adds in a footnote:
A classic little example of this ritual … is that
of the used razor blade, which is included in
all accounts of visits to China: the traveller
leaves a used razor in his hotel room, which is
scrupulously returned to him at every stage of
his journey; it is not until he reaches Hong Kong
that he can finally disembarrass himself of it.
On page 84 of A China Passage we read:
As we were about to leave, a porter came
running out of the hotel with a look of extreme
urgency on his face. He handed me four
Chinese cents—the equivalent of two American
pennies—that had fallen out of my pocket in
my room.
It never occurs to the great professor that this
might just have been a Potemkin incident. As for
the hotel conditions in which visitors were put up,
the brilliant Galbraith has this to say in the midst of
a convulsion that caused a million deaths and tens of
millions of people to be dislocated, maltreated and
humiliated, and resulted in untold damage to the
country’s three-millennial cultural heritage:
The Nanking Hotel … is agreeable but not
palatial. I have a bedroom, sitting room,
bathroom and air conditioning. But that is
enough.
What a wonderfully expressive use of the word
but! Fortunately for the Comrade Professor, Paris
awaited him on his return from China:
I was two days at the Ritz with no grievous
sense of social guilt, no insuperable problem of
cultural shock …
You can take Galbraith out of the Ritz, but you
can’t take the Ritz out of Galbraith.
When asked by his guests for criticism of China
during the Cultural Revolution, Galbraith made Dr
Chasuble (susceptible to draughts, you remember)
seem positively self-lacerating: “You are smoking far
too many cigarettes.”
I
t was against this moral, emotional and intellectual dishonesty and cowardice, and in defence
of the Chinese civilisation that he knew so well
and loved so much, that Leys wrote his four books
on Maoism: The Chairman’s New Clothes, Chinese
Shadows, Broken Images, The Burning Forest. They
were important to me for more than one reason. I
had contemporaries, briefly, who were enamoured
of the Cultural Revolution and had Maoist posters
on their wall. Though the sight of millions of people
brandishing the Little Red Book in unison appalled
me, as the sight of millions of people brandishing
anything in unison appals me, I, who knew nothing of China, wanted authoritative evidence that the
Cultural Revolution was the murderous catastrophe
that I thought it was. Leys’s books, almost alone,
provided it. As for the wilful blindness of my contemporaries, it was not theirs alone: describing how
Le Monde, once the Daily Bible of right-thinking
Frenchmen, ignored a Chinese crisis that occurred
in 1974, he wrote:
Quadrant April 2015
19
The Urgency of Truth
The best part is that the [newspaper’s]
unfortunate correspondent in Peking was
moreover perfectly capable of having remained
ignorant of the crisis in good faith.
But Leys’s books were important to me stylistically also. Here was prose that was lucid, angry,
scornful, ironic and funny at the same time, and
that seemed to carry its own guarantee of honesty
and authority with it. It was not for nothing that
Leys was an admirer of Orwell, and in fact wrote
a short book, Orwell, ou l’ horreur de la politique,
published not coincidentally in 1984, about him. In
this book, Leys wrote:
Simplicity and innocence are qualities that
children and savages display naturally, but no
civilised adult can attain them without first
submitting to quite a rigorous discipline … in
him [Orwell] man and writer were one …
The same might be said of Leys, and certainly
he achieved one of Orwell’s goals, that of making
political writing into an art. None did it better, in
fact (at least none known to me).
And yet he was not interested primarily in politics, which was for him something that had to be
cleared away, like undergrowth, before you could
start the cultivation that was so important to him.
In the preface to Broken Images he cites the great
Chinese write Lu Hsün (Leys, incidentally, was
the greatest master of apt quotation, often from
obscure sources, known to me, and must have been
blessed with a formidable memory). Lu wrote the
following apology for publishing a collection of his
articles:
A few friends, believing that the situation has
hardly changed since the time I wrote these
things, have thought that it would be worth
conserving them in a collection. This upsets
me. I think in fact that polemics against the
vices of an epoch normally disappear with their
targets. It is with these writings as with the
white corpuscles in the blood that form a crust
over a wound; so long as they do not eliminate
themselves, it is a sign that the infection
remains active.
I think this is to underestimate the value of
his own writings on the Cultural Revolution, now
forty years in the past: first because they are a lesson in how to write political prose of the first order,
that is still capable of giving an intense pleasure to
those who appreciate good, indeed brilliant, writing, and second because the dishonesty against
20
which they were written is with us still and perhaps
will always be with us. However, the fact that the
battle is never won for good and all does not mean
that we should retire from the field; Leys teaches
us how to fight.
A
lthough Leys remained a university teacher of
Chinese for many years and of course never
lost his passion for China and its culture, he turned
often in his subsequent writings to very different
subject matter, in which his mastery and authority were equally great. Continuing to write about
China, he also became a literary essayist of the
greatest distinction. I do not recall having read
any modern essayist with such great admiration or
pleasure. His erudition in both French and English
literature was formidable, but was always used to
illuminate what he was saying and to increase the
reader’s understanding, never to show off or to
draw attention to himself. One felt one’s ignorance
in his presence, but not as a reproach, rather as a
stimulus. The world was almost more interesting
for Leys than was Leys to himself: no writer was
less egotistical. I often felt in reading him that
twenty pages of his were worth an entire book of
many others.
His ability to quote so appositely, at exactly the
length necessary, was a manifestation of his precision of mind. I suspect that he thought that concision was next to godliness, at least for a writer;
and he had that ability to say in a few lines what
it would take lesser writers whole pages, chapters,
books, to say. I take up one of his books of essays—
L’Ange et le cachalot (The Angel and the Sperm
Whale)—and look at the first sentence of the first
essay, “An Introduction to Confucius”:
If one considers the greatest teachers of
humanity—the Buddha, Confucius, Socrates,
Jesus—one is struck by a curious paradox:
nowadays, not one of them could obtain the
lowliest teaching post in any of our universities.
The reason for this is simple: their qualifications
would be insufficient—they published nothing.
Leys continues with that delicious irony of
which he was such a master:
(It is not impossible that Confucius edited
certain texts, but, as every university teacher
knows, edited works seem like padding in a
curriculum vitae—one cannot say that they
really count.)
This short paragraph distils the decline of universities as institutions which provide a haven from
Quadrant April 2015
The Urgency of Truth
the everyday world in which disinterested reflection,
thought and research—at least in the humanities—
can take place. As Whitehead said that all Western
philosophy is footnotes to Plato, so all reflection on
the state of universities might be called footnotes to
Leys.
This paragraph is not just a lucky hit, such as
anyone who writes a great deal might expect occasionally; it is typical. Here is the beginning of his
essay (in the same book) on André Malraux, a writer
often uncritically admired:
We know the story (it is hackneyed): in a full
church, the preacher climbs into the pulpit
and pronounces a sermon of overwhelming
eloquence. Everyone cries. One man, however,
remains dry-eyed. They ask him the reason. “It’s
because,” he says, “I’m not of this parish.”
And he continues:
A foreigner, but francophone, I feel at home
each time I go to France. It is only when it is a
question of Malraux that it becomes evident: I
am not of this parish.
And he tells us why:
On Malraux’s death, a Parisian weekly asked
me to write a page on the following theme:
what did Malraux mean to you? I naively
thought they wanted the truth, so I sent in all
innocence—but the editor was horrified and
put it in the waste paper basket. And yet my
article only repeated something well-known to
the most diverse foreign critics—from Koestler
to Nabokov—who for a good half-century had
regarded Malraux as a phoney.
Since, of course, Malraux’s best-known work
treated of China, we know, if we had not already
guessed from Leys’s prose style alone, that what will
follow will not be a mere hatchet job, but a reasoned,
informed and irrefutable destruction of Malraux’s
reputation.
B
ut Leys was not simply a man who was against:
his praise could be as convincing as his criticism
was devastating. I can think of no better summary
of what Leys was for than what Chekhov, in one of
his letters, said he stood for:
My holy of holies is the human body, health,
intelligence, talent, inspiration, love and …
freedom from violence and lies, no matter what
form the latter take.
For example, the beautiful essay on Don Quixote,
published in Leys’s book Protée et autres essais, begins:
When, in a discussion, someone refers to
someone else as a Quixote, is it always as an
insult, which astonishes me. In fact, I can’t think
of a more beautiful compliment.
And he then writes a eulogy to worldly failure, as success and failure are usually, very crudely,
understood.
Leys’s style of criticism is the reverse of academic.
He makes the writers about whom he chooses to
write, and whom he likes, dislikes or partly likes,
seem important to us because, for him, all true literature is contemporary. It comes as no great surprise that Leys was religious, though certainly not
religiose; for him there were certain existential constants in human life, which is why, of course, all true
literature is contemporary.
It also comes as no surprise, then, that he was, in
addition to all the above, a writer of elegant, witty,
amusing and profound little essays. Perhaps my
favourite of his books is Le Bonheur des petits poissons (The Happiness of Little Fish), subtitled Letters
from the Antipodes. He wrote these pieces, so slight
in length that you might mistake them for casual
off-scourings of a busy pen, for a French literary
magazine.
In “Cigarettes Are Sublime”, for example, he
recounts how he sought out the book by Richard
Klein of that title but how, once he found it, he
put it on his shelf and never read it for fear that it
might not contain all that he hoped it would. An
ex-smoker himself, he expresses his exasperation at
the anti-smoking zealotry around him, suggesting
that such zeal is a substitute for a deeper sense of
morality. He ends:
Mozart confided in a letter that he thought
of death every day, and that this thought was
the deepest source of all his musical creation.
It certainly explains the inexhaustible joy of
his art. I don’t mean that the inspiration that
one could draw from the funereal warnings
issued by all the right-thinking health
authorities is going to transform all smokers
into Mozarts, but certainly these strident
reminders come to endow smoking with a
new seductiveness—if not a metaphysical
meaning. Every time I see one of those
threatening labels on a packet of cigarettes, I
feel seriously tempted to start smoking again.
Mozart appears again in a profound little
essay called “L’Empire du laid”, a model, typically
Quadrant April 2015
21
The Urgency of Truth
Leysian, of how to draw an important and unexpected lesson from a slight, even banal incident, all
in the simplest words:
active forces which assert themselves furiously
on every occasion, not tolerating any refusal of
their tyranny.
One day, a long time ago … I was writing in
a café. Like many lazy people, I like to feel
animation around me when I am supposed
to be working—it gives me the impression of
activity. The murmur of conversation did not
disturb me, not even the radio which blared in
the corner—all morning, without interruption,
it poured out current popular songs, stock
market prices, muzak, sports results, a report
on foot and mouth disease, more songs, and
all this pabulum flowed like tepid water from a
half-closed tap. Furthermore, no one listened to
it. Then suddenly, for an inexplicable reason—a
miracle!—this vulgar radiophonic drivel gave
way without pause to sublime music: the
first bars of Mozart’s clarinet quintet took
possession of our room with serene authority,
transforming the café into an antechamber of
Paradise. But the other customers, until then
busy chatting, playing cards or reading the
papers, were not deaf after all: on hearing these
celestial sounds, they looked at each other,
taken aback. Their disarray lasted only a few
seconds—to the relief of all, one of them stood
up firmly and went to the radio to change the
station, thus restoring a stream of noise more
familiar and reassuring that it was easy for
everyone to ignore.
I once had a powerful confirming instance of
Leys’s insight. I had been called to an emergency
in the prison in which I worked as a doctor. It was
a hot day and I had the window of my car open. I
stopped at some traffic lights. My radio was playing Chopin, not very loudly, but evidently loudly
enough for a passing pedestrian to hear. He came
across to my car, screwed up his face into an expression of real rage and hatred, and screamed, “What
are you playing that shit for?” It goes without saying that had I been playing rap music loud enough
to produce an earth tremor, he would have said
nothing; and if the lights had not changed, I think
he might actually have attacked me.
Leys continues, lucid as ever:
The conclusion that Leys draws is worth citing
in full:
At that moment I was struck by a fact
awareness of which has never since left me:
the true philistines are not those who cannot
recognise beauty—they recognise it only too
well, they detect it instantly, with a flair as
infallible as that of the most subtle aesthete,
but it is only to be able to pounce on it so
as to stifle it before it can take root in their
universal empire of ugliness. For ignorance,
obscurantism, bad taste or stupidity do not
result merely in a deficiency, but are as much
22
Inspired talent is always an insult to mediocrity.
And if this is true in the aesthetic sphere, it is
even more true in the moral. More than artistic
beauty, moral beauty seems to have the ability
to exasperate our sad species. The need to
reduce everything to our own miserable level,
to soil, mock and degrade all that overwhelms
us by its splendor, is probably one of the most
distressing traits of human nature. This passage suggests that Leys was not a writer
who was anxious to please the multitudes at all
costs, though he admired those who pleased the
multitudes without abandoning truth, quality or
beauty. He was not a snob, but neither was he a
flatterer.
I have a small declaration of interest to make.
Leys quoted me (favourably) in one of his books.
So great was my admiration for him that I felt that
this in some small way was an apologia pro vita mea. Anthony Daniels, who also writes under the
pseudonym Theodore Dalrymple, is a prolific writer
on social, medical, literary and other matters. His
most recent book is Threats of Pain and Ruin (New
English Review Press). He is a retired doctor who
lives in France.
Quadrant April 2015
View from a Retirement Village
I can hear the ocean,
watch the cruise ships
pass, heading south,
their passengers on a trip
of a lifetime. Here,
lift doors closing
make more noise
than the residents,
my mother especially.
The History of Western Thought
For two whole days he disappeared.
The idea of the Dialectic
remained—but not his name.
As for me, I’m managing,
just, to make do
where I am, in a small
town up country, where,
some say, there’s nothing there.
1770–1831.
Quite the time to be alive,
the Bastille and the “Whiff of Grapeshot”,
Goethe, Schiller, Byron, Shelley.
My lazy galaxy of sparks
had cancelled him completely.
As for my mother,
who’s no complainer,
she’s not where
one commonly enjoys
the happiest of days
because ... everything’s
just too real.
Wikipedia, I knew,
could trace him at a stroke
but that was not the point.
The syllables that sound his name
were no more than a cloud
below the curvature of mountains,
beyond all effort of the will.
The great idea was clear
but not the man who’d had it.
Only when I’d given up,
did Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich
regain his place within
The History of Western Thought,
be-wigged and stockinged, resolute ...
and not at all put out.
Geoff Page
Brian Turner
Reconciliation Haiku
Ugly words were said.
Words that had no business in
the mouths of lovers.
Of course I was right,
but the smug way I was right
was completely wrong.
I’m sorry I said
words of any weight or length.
Silence was required.
Quadrant April 2015
Joe Dolce
23
U ll a T erk elsen
Points of the Compass
I: Copenhagen
T
he Danish word for to be is vaere. Its opposite
is undvaere. It’s a simple word, but not too
simple. You might say that you cannot undvaere your glasses because without them you can’t
read. But you can also say to a person you love that
you cannot undvaere him or her ... that your being,
your life, cannot go on without him or her in it.
After a terrorist had shot and killed a Jewish
doorman at the Copenhagen synagogue where
thirteen-year-old Hannah and her family were
entertaining eighty guests for her bat mitzvah in
the Jewish community hall behind it, Danish Prime
Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt turned up at the
synagogue the following morning. She arrived to
do what political leaders usually do on such solemn
occasions: to kneel down, to lay her flowers at the
railing, to express words of compassion, words of
horror, to the representatives of the Jewish community who accompanied her.
Then she suddenly turned around and looked
straight into the television cameras, directly addressing Denmark’s Jews who were that morning in a
state of total shock. She said to them: “We cannot
undvaere you.” We cannot live without you. We do
not want to live without you.
There and then the whole of Denmark burst into
tears. We all sobbed—loudly—including perhaps
the Little Mermaid sitting on her stone in the sea
in the cold midwinter. Old Danes, remembering the
war and Denmark’s famous boat rescue of her Jews
fleeing the Nazis across to Sweden, nodded knowingly while they too sobbed. This is how it should
be, they thought. This is what Danes should say to
their Jewish compatriots and to each other. This is
how Danes should feel faced with terrorism: that we
cannot undvaere each other. The terrorists shall not
succeed in dividing us.
The voluntary doorman guarding Hannah’s
party died because he was Jewish. He had not drawn
cartoons of the Prophet nor expressed a view on the
rights or wrongs of drawing them. But the attacks
had also cost a film director his life because he
“dared” attend a meeting about the famous cartoons
24
of the Prophet “and all that”. He risked—and lost—
his life defending a principle. But both had been
killed, and both deserved to be mourned.
It was suddenly very clear to most Danes that we
were together against terrorism and that what had
happened was directed at that togetherness and so
against all of us. A nation is a family and the victims
were members of our family. You do not want to
undvaere members of your own family.
So the synagogue in Krystalgade (Crystal Street)
in a lovely old part of Copenhagen had experienced
its own Kristallnacht. On the first “Crystal Night”—
November 9, 1938—synagogues, Jewish institutions
and Jewish-owned properties were attacked all
over Germany. Most non-Jews either applauded or
looked away. But on the evening after Copenhagen’s
Crystal Night, 42,000 Copenhageners gathered
and stood in silence before the café where the film
director had been killed at the Free Speech meeting,
to show their togetherness. They listened to John
Lennon’s “Imagine”. By then the Krystalgade was
carpeted in flowers.
These attacks changed the debate about the legendary “cartoons”—the satirical drawings in the
Danish newspaper Jyllandsposten some years ago
mocking the Prophet Mohammad in the style of
Charlie Hebdo. The highly relevant (but in Denmark
by now well-trodden) debate on “Does the right to
say what you want mean that you have to say it?”
did not restart. Much more was now at stake: our
lives, our way of living, our relaxed and open dealings with each other, in short, everything.
The frightening thing is that probably most
Danes—like most Frenchmen after the Charlie
Hebdo shootings—thought that the terrorist attacks
would have happened anyway, sooner or later, satirical cartoons or not. Like the Charlie Hebdo attack,
the Copenhagen attacks were an excuse for the terrorists. As in France, the terrorists seemed to calculate, “While we are at it, we might as well kill some
Jews as well.”
Is that Europe in 2015? Yes. Oh yes.
The immigration debate has been raging in
Quadrant April 2015
the
points
follyof
ofthe
Insurrection
compass
Denmark, as in all other European countries, for else. They are offered an identity that way, and
decades. It is often linked to anti-European Union they grab it enthusiastically, because they have no
sentiment, since in the eyes of many Danish citi- Danish identity of their own. For this many Danes
zens European Union rules—open borders in the would place a large portion of guilt on Denmark
Schengen agreement, free movement of labour and and on themselves—in part at least because wellthus of people under the EU’s founding treaties— intentioned Danes did not feel comfortable about
make it easier for terrorists to move freely about imposing a Danish identity on people from different
the continent. As in other European countries this cultures.
sentiment has also given rise to an anti-immigraDanes who argue like that, however, make no
tion party: the Danish People’s Party. This party apology for terrorism. What they make is a desperclaims that the erosion of the nation-state by the ate attempt to understand, laced with a great fear:
European Union, aggravated by the large numbers perhaps we cannot stop terrorism; perhaps it is too
of non-European immigrants settling in the country, late.
undermines cultural and social cohesion. Too many
ut Denmark’s Social Democratic government
immigrants, they think, will ruin the extremely predoes not think it is too late. Not at all. At the
cious—for Scandinavians—but expensive welfare
moment it is introducing new anti-terror legislation
state in the long run.
Those who sympathise with the People’s Party so draconian that it has provoked a usually friendly
have naturally seen the violent attacks on the ear- liberal daily newspaper, Politiken, to write on its
liest and best-known of the Prophet-cartoonists, front page, “FE [Denmark’s military intelligence
service] will get more power than
Kurt Westergaard, who now lives
the NSA”—the NSA being the
under constant police protection, as
National Security Agency of the
one proof of their case. If people of
he failure of
USA!
totally different attitudes are forced
integration, she
Nor is this run-of-the-mill headto live together, they say, that will
line hyperbole. The Danish governultimately lead to conflict and viosaid, was not
lence and restrictions on freedom of responsible for terror. ment wants military intelligence
to be able to bug and eavesdrop on
expression. Like Marine le Pen of
Society was not
Danes travelling abroad without
the National Front in France, they
the
prior permission of a Danish
see the Copenhagen attacks as yet
responsible. Other
court—as has been the law until
another proof of their sombre prepeople were not
now. This is to get at “foreign fightdictions. It was inevitable, they say
ers” who would then risk a charge
today, and we warned for many years
responsible. THE
treason. Courts would be able
against it. In the 1968 words of the
TERRORIST WAS of
to take away passports. Airlines
conservative British politician and
RESPONSIBLE.
would have to hand in lists of their
classical scholar Enoch Powell, they
passengers. Powers to gather persaw “the river Tiber foaming with
sonal information would be greatly
much blood”.
But there is a strong counter-opinion in Denmark expanded, funding of the intelligence services drathat also sees the attacks as tragically inevitable, matically increased, restrictions on police access to
but for different reasons. They see the admission social media reduced, prisons kept under surveilof many immigrants (whether political refugees or lance to prevent their becoming terrorist recruiteconomic migrants) by a rich country like Denmark ment centres.
These are tough measures, and opposition to
as a moral duty: since we live in a globalised age,
let’s open our doors. But they go on to argue that them is accompanied by warnings that a “police
Denmark has not received newcomers properly as state” is just round the corner. The political battle
new citizens, but merely as temporary guests. And is on, not at least because a general election is itself
around the corner.
that has created serious problems.
Such arguments are the common coin of political
Integration failed; immigrants stayed alien; they
do lousy jobs. We paid for them with high taxes but debate in the post-9/11 age. Even so, the most striking
we never made them part of our national family. So moment in the debate so far has been the statement
they feel alienated from the vast majority of liber- (to a Danish newspaper) by the Social Democratic
ated, rich, well-educated Scandinavians. And when Home Secretary, Mette Frederiksen, in advocatthe Islamist call-to-arms sounds around the world, ing the anti-terror laws. The failure of integration,
young Muslims in Denmark are naturally drawn she said, was not responsible for terror. Society was
to holy war, not unlike young Muslims everywhere not responsible. Other people were not responsible.
B
T
Quadrant April 2015
25
points of the compass
THE TERRORIST WAS RESPONSIBLE.
No democratic country can undvaere a national
debate when something dramatic happens, especially when it is an event that changes everything.
Nor can a democratic country undvaere political
leaders who cut through the usual arguments and
say what they themselves think. On this occasion Denmark was fortunate in enjoying both. The
Prime Minister said to the Jews that she could not
undvaere them. They were the victims, and she was
on their side. The Danish Home Secretary said to
the terrorist that he and nobody else was responsible
for the murders committed.
No people can undvaere moral clarity in times of
confusion and pain. That clarity was provided—but
for how long?
Ulla Terkelsen is the roving correspondent, based
in Paris, for Denmark’s TV2. She has been a senior
foreign correspondent for either TV2 or Danish Radio
in numerous European and American cities since 1967.
Her recent tours of duty have included Afghanistan.
A skold K rusheln yck y
Points of the Compass
II: Mariupol, Ukraine
T
he supposed ceasefire in Ukraine has been
regarded as a bad joke since it began by the
country’s soldiers manning the front lines
east of the port city of Mariupol, which pro-Moscow
separatists, backed by regular Russian troops, have
vowed to capture.
I arrived in the city on the Azov Sea coast amidst
fierce fighting between the Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces the day before the ceasefire began. In the
three weeks that followed there was only one night
when the guns were more or less silent. For nearly
two weeks the Russian forces continued to use heavy
artillery to shell the Ukrainian defenders’ positions,
in contravention of the ceasefire terms.
In the third week they mostly used smaller weapons—mortar, rocket-propelled grenades and small
arms fire. In the last week or so though, the Russian
side has reportedly increasingly resumed using artillery, large calibre mortar and tank fire.
Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers have died during this ceasefire. The Ukrainians know—from their
own observations and satellite reconnaissance by
the USA and NATO—that separatists and Russian
men and materiel are regrouping in preparation for
a renewed assault on the Mariupol front and elsewhere in Ukraine’s embattled east.
I spent three weeks embedded with the 37th
Mechanised Infantry Battalion, whose some 430
men are mostly from around the eastern Ukrainian
26
city of Zaporizhya. The 37th Battalion is one of a
score of volunteer battalions that sprung up after the
separatist rebellion, instigated by Russian President
Vladimir Putin, began bloodily taking over swathes
of south-eastern Ukraine.
When the fighting started last spring, Ukraine
had approximately 4000 combat-ready troops, serving in a military debilitated by corruption. The military’s best weapons had been sold off and training
was minimal. So many Ukrainians last spring began
organising themselves into volunteer battalions.
The 37th Battalion was formed last September at
the initiative of a group of former Soviet airborne
forces officers and men who had kept in touch
through veterans’ organisations. Many of them had
seen action in the Soviet Afghan War in the 1980s.
Other seasoned Soviet-era veterans also enrolled,
bringing much experience and professionalism to
the 37th Battalion but also raising the average age
of its members to forty. Most of its recruits—aged
between nineteen and sixty-three—have some
military experience either in Soviet or independent Ukraine’s forces, although some had none and
received only three weeks’ training before being sent
to the front.
The 37th Battalion’s fifty-five-year-old commander, Alexander Lobas, who served in Soviet
airborne and then Ukraine’s armed forces, retiring
as a lieutenant-colonel, said: “We couldn’t stand by
Quadrant April 2015
points of the compass
and watch this new Hitler, Putin, occupy our land.”
The battalions operate under the overall command
of the Ukrainian army. While the government now
provides basic weapons, ammunition, fuel and
meagre salaries—the top ones are some $300 per
month—the men initially equipped and outfitted
themselves. Like the other battalions the 37th is
dependent on the support of ordinary people and
occasional wealthier patrons, who donate funds,
food, warm clothing, boots, summer and winter
camouflage netting or snipers’ outfits, individual
medical packs, rations and other necessary items.
Like two other battalions from eastern Ukraine
I have spent time with, the 37th are overwhelmingly
Russian-speakers. I mention that because Putin’s
propaganda endlessly claims Russian-speakers are
persecuted in Ukraine. Putin’s propaganda machine
has also tried to claim Ukrainian Russian-speakers
as supporters of Moscow and has even suggested
they are more or less equivalent to ethnic Russians.
Some seven years ago Putin created a Russian law
allowing his forces to come to the aid of Russianspeakers in former parts of the Soviet empire—the
doctrine justifying the Georgia intervention and the
annexation of Crimea.
Putin may have deluded himself that Russianspeakers really wanted to be part of his sinister
“Ruskiy Mir”—Russian world. Putin was likely
startled that most in Russian-speaking eastern
Ukraine so vehemently rejected his vision of creating a Moscow satrapy called Novorossiya out of
the country’s east and south to the extent that they
have become his fiercest military opponents. Some
in the 37th Battalion are not just Russian-speaking
Ukrainians but actually Russian ethnics who live in
Ukraine and hate the despotism Putin has created
in Russia.
T
he 37th Battalion’s base is at a former stateowned truck repair facility in the east of
Mariupol. The battalion’s few dilapidated 1980s
tanks and other armoured vehicles as well as trucks
and cars are kept going far beyond their natural lifespans here. The front lines begin some five miles east
around the town of Sherokyno. The 37th and two
other battalions man concrete barricaded checkpoints on the roads leading to the front. The front
itself is a line stretching northwards from Sherokyno
and is composed of trenches and bunkers eerily reminiscent of First World War defences.
The bunkers are dug around seven feet into
the ground with five people sharing four beds—at
least one is always on guard—in a space like a very
small garden shed. A little stove is used for cooking
and heating and every square inch is stuffed with
ammunition, weapons, canned food, lanterns, com-
munications equipment and other supplies.
At the crumps of exploding shells there is laughter. One of the men, Misha, said: “Hear that? That’s
the sound of the ceasefire!” Misha, twenty-four, is a
skilled building worker who lived in the Ukrainian
capital, Kyiv, for three years before returning to his
native Zaporizhya when he heard a battalion was
being formed there. He said:
We have to abide by the ceasefire and our
government allows us to fire back only if we
are being directly attacked. A few days ago we
could fire because the Russians were advancing
with tanks. We destroyed one of their tanks
and stopped them less than a kilometre away.
But we are sitting ducks and everyone knows
the Russians will attack again. It’s a matter of
when, not if.
Vadim, thirty-two, emigrated with his wife to
California several years ago but returned to join
the battalion. He said: “We were in San Diego
and building a good life for ourselves but I couldn’t
watch what was happening and do nothing. I joined
up because it’s our duty to protect our country.”
He has great faith that America will eventually
arm Ukraine. He said: “We don’t need Americans
or anyone else fighting for us—we can do that for
ourselves. But we need the weapons because the
Russians have much more and better armour than
us.” He believes that US Javelin “tank-killer” missiles could do much to level the battlefield in the way
that Stinger anti-aircraft missiles provided to the
Afghans fighting the Soviet invasion in the 1980s
turned around that conflict.
Gennady is fifty and had done national service
before working in Zaporizhya for twenty years as a
teacher. He said:
I’m a teacher and a peaceful man but I am
fighting because we have to stop Putin here
before he advances further. Mariupol is in
Donetsk region which adjoins our Zaporizhya
region. We’re next on this little psychopath’s list
and I don’t want Russian shells raining down on
the heads of my children and grandchildren.
T
hroughout the conflict Putin has denied that
any regular Russian forces or equipment are
in Ukraine—although Ukrainian forces have captured Russian troops and tanks numerous times.
Last year Putin repeatedly denied that the Russianspeaking, well-armed troops without identifying
insignia that had invaded Crimea were his men.
Later, after Moscow annexed Crimea, Putin admitted the soldiers had been Russian regulars but glibly
Quadrant April 2015
27
points of the compass
said everyone understood why he had to lie at that and insists that more of us die.”
time. A few days ago he boasted that he ordered
And Putin, the once and forever KGB man, who
preparations for Crimea’s annexation weeks in runs his Russian administration as if it was a great
advance. Kremlin documents, possibly deliberately and particularly dark psychological special operation
leaked by Putin’s administration, reveal the inva- assault, seems to have succeeded into forcing many
sion of Crimea had been planned even earlier—a of the West’s leaders to behave as if they accept
year before it happened.
his skewed and mendacious “reality”. Few of them
But, although he admitted lying to the whole until recently have openly challenged Putin’s insistworld about his troops not being in Crimea, Putin ence that he has not sent Russian regulars and vast
demands that world accepts he has nothing to do amounts of weapons to Ukraine, although Western
with the conflict and Russia does not have a mili- governments have for months had ample evidence
tary presence there. In the same way Putin indig- that Russian troops are present and Russian genernantly asserts that the Malaysian airliner, despite als are directing the fighting in Ukraine. The US
overwhelming evidence, was not shot down over Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, said: “The
Ukraine last year by a Russian anti-air missile and separatists now have more tanks, APCs, artillery
that he is not connected to the recent murder of and missile systems than some European NATO
one of his most vigorous political opponents, Boris countries.”
Nemtsov.
Putin uses as pretexts for his actions in Ukraine
The ceasefire, which was supposed to begin on the protection of Russian-speakers and the threat
February 15, came as Ukraine’s army was taking a of NATO aggression. But not a single example
battering from the pro-Moscow forces, backed by of a Ukrainian government somehow persecuting
thousands of Russian regular troops and hundreds Russian-speakers has ever come to light. Eastern
of tanks, armoured personnel carriers, heavy artil- Ukraine’s population and its leaders, bureaucrats
lery and mobile missile arrays which had been seen and police are overwhelmingly Russian-speaking,
pouring into Ukraine from Russia.
and for most of the time since Ukraine’s independGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel and French ence in 1991 its presidents and prime ministers have
President François Hollande took the lead in push- been Russian-speakers and from eastern Ukraine.
ing for the ceasefire. Ukrainian President Petro
When it comes to NATO Putin has pulled off a
Poroshenko had been criticised by his military and mesmerising mind trick. Many Western leaders—
countrymen for agreeing to a previous Brussels- who, because they run NATO, know the military
brokered ceasefire, which had been ceaselessly alliance has never threatened Russia—feel they have
breached by the Russian side, who have killed hun- to behave as if they accept that Putin believes Russia
dreds of Ukrainian soldiers and seized territory.
is indeed threatened. A former US Navy liaison
Poroshenko had been pleading for the USA officer, Kevin O’Brien, who spent four years with
and Western Europe to drop its ban on supplying the Ukrainian navy at its Crimean headquarters, has
Ukraine with weapons to enable it to, if not defeat written in an MA thesis:
the Russian army, which outnumbers Ukraine’s by
The Russian attack on Ukraine has been a
at least ten to one, then at least to cause it so much
masterful use of the Russian military concept of
pain as to give Putin pause for thought.
maskirovka. Maskirovka is literally translated as
But Merkel is vehemently against supplying
mask, or in a military sense, camouflage. It has
Ukraine with weapons—claiming such a move
developed as a term for all operational, tactical
would enrage Putin to even more violence—and
and strategic deception in support of political or
has urged US President Barack Obama not to send
military objectives.
weapons either. Washington does not want a rift in
the West’s response to Putin’s aggression and has
This maskirovka, in conjunction with fifteen years
so far said it is still considering weapons provision
despite a bipartisan call to do so by an impressive of relentless propaganda and press censorship, has
convinced much of Russia’s population that NATO
array of senior American politicians.
is readying for invasion. It has manoeuvred Western
he 37th Battalion commander, Colonel Lobas, leaders into a position where they are responding to
like most of his comrades, is dismayed that the the distorted surrealistic world Putin has conjured
West has limited its support for Ukraine to sanc- up as if it were the real one.
tions against Russia. He said: “They make us die
O’Brien says that because of Putin’s experience
because we are supposed to stick to a ceasefire which and knowledge “it is difficult to accept his antiis fictional. Even as the Russians continue to break NATO posturing at face value. If, then, there is no
the ceasefire the West pretends that there is progress existential threat from NATO, and Putin is well
T
28
Quadrant April 2015
the
points
follyof
ofthe
Insurrection
compass
aware of this fact, then what is the existential threat
to Russia in the case of Ukraine? There is none.”
Many Ukrainians are dismayed though that Putin’s
mendacious version of the world, where Ukraine
poses a threat, is indulged at the cost of their lives.
markets are bustling. But behind the calm facade
there is great apprehension. People are trying to
stock up on food, buying staples like rice and pasta
with a currency that has lost two thirds of its value
in a year.
The blown-out windows in high-rises, burned
obas said that after the ceasefire was signed the car wrecks, and a crater in a school playground are
Russians simply continued their attacks, par- reminders that in January separatists fired an estiticularly at the key railway hub town of Debaltseve. mated 120 missiles into the city killing around thirty
The regular Russian army played a
people and wounding many others.
pivotal role in capturing the town,
The scorched skeleton of Mariupol’s
which fell after several hundred
police headquarters, destroyed
his maskirovka
Ukrainian soldiers were killed. “Yet
when separatists captured the city
has manoeuvred
despite all the blatant disregard for
for a couple of months last year,
the ceasefire some of the Western
Western leaders into and the destruction wrought when
leaders insist the agreement has not
Ukrainian forces retook it last June,
broken down completely and we, a position where they have given the city’s inhabitants a
Ukrainians, are made to keep to it are responding to the nasty taste of what could yet come.
while the Russians keep killing us
The city’s population is reckoned
distorted surrealistic to have
and taking more of our country,” he
been evenly split between
world Putin has
said.
pro-Moscow and pro-Ukrainian
Many Ukrainian fighters, politiconjured up as if it sentiment before the conflict began.
cians and ordinary people say that
Now the Ukrainian side estimates
were the real one.
they will fight a guerrilla war if the
that between 30 to 40 per cent are
country’s conventional forces are
pro-Russian. Most of the people
incapacitated.
I spoke to in Mariupol said they
Lobas said that Putin sees the West’s persistence wanted to be part of Ukraine. But some refused to
with the make-believe ceasefire and refusal to arm speak when I introduced myself as a British jourUkraine as weakness:
nalist, perhaps reluctant to identify themselves as
pro-Russians.
Putin will press on with his aggression because
One seventy-three-year-old man, Igor (who, like
he only understands violence and can only be
many others did not want to give his last name) said
stopped by force. We have to carry on fighting
he had been a high school teacher of history but also
whatever happens as we know that if Russia
a committed Communist Party member working in
wins we will face execution or be sent to the
Mariupol’s propaganda department. He said:
new Gulags Putin will reopen in Siberia.
I know how propaganda works and many of the
One influential fighter said:
people in Mariupol have been totally taken in by
Moscow’s propaganda, as they watched Russian
Does the West want peace at the expense of
TV for years. I think that before the conflict
the death of my country? There won’t be peace
began around 60 per cent of people here were
because we will not only fight the Russians here
for Kyiv and 40 per cent pro-separatist. Having
but our guerrillas will attack in Russia. There
seen the behaviour of the separatists who have
are millions of Ukrainians living in Russia
brought banditry and ruin to the areas they
and many have already said they will launch
control, more people here are now in favour of
operations to sabotage Russia’s oil and gas
Kyiv. I think the separatists have 30 percent
industry and attack targets in Moscow and the
support at most.
Kremlin itself.
I attended a public meeting where some 300 peoHe warned that one of the first targets would be ple packed a hall at Mariupol’s university to meet
the vital gas pipeline that runs across Ukraine from visiting representatives of Ukraine’s parliament.
Russia to Western Europe and is Moscow’s largest There were no overt separatist sentiments although
single stream of income.
there were some criticisms of the government.
Most people seemed genuinely pro-Kyiv and talked
n Mariupol people are still going to work and the about the conflict with the implied assumption that
trams and buses are still running and the street Moscow was responsible for the conflict.
L
T
I
Quadrant April 2015
29
the
points
follyof
ofthe
Insurrection
compass
For days rumours have been swirling that
Putin has been removed by murder or putsch and
his replacement might prosecute the war against
Ukraine even more vigorously. Kyiv is still readying for another major Russian assault that this time
might involve Moscow opening new fronts aimed
at capturing Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk, the twin
centres of Ukraine’s huge weapons industry, which
makes tanks, planes, aviation engines, rocket stages
for missiles (including Russia’s ICBMs) and other
equipment needed by Moscow’s military.
Askold Krushelnycky has been a foreign correspondent
for British newspapers including the Sunday Times
and the European, covering Central and Eastern
Europe extensively. Since the start of turmoil in
Ukraine in 2013 he has reported as a freelancer
on events there. He is the author of An Orange
Revolution: A Personal Journey Through Ukrainian
History (2006). He lives in Washington, DC.
A Little Wine
I remember you, Dario,
courteous, long-faced croupier
who found me lost in the mist
on Verona’s vast piazza
with twilight rising from the cobbles,
and how you escorted me back
through the blurred grid of alleys
towards my door, unsmiling
—yes, perfectly poker-faced—
but stopping on the way
“per un bicchiere di vino?”
at the counter of a small cantina
walled with bottles, a cellar come up for air.
And how a hand glanced off the lampshade
so it swayed just over the heads
of a dozen strangers like a benediction.
So the red wine, held up, sparkled on and off
and the warm Italian vowels
circled below the moving halo of light
around the invisible centre
of which we were
that moment, the tangible signs.
The Morandi Museum
Cream, taupe, terne, green,
cylindrical, squat, square—
are they ideas in mufti,
these calm families crowding in
to the coveted centre?
Silence incarnate,
emptiness replete?
They reflect on us passing through
the echoing room
or standing a moment
in twos and threes and fours—
tall, short, dumpy, thin,
brown coat, beige dress, grey suit—
as we mirror them.
They are not
clumped fungi,
Fez at dawn,
gulls on a quay,
not quarterly tables of profit and loss
nor stone bouquets
for a silent order of nuns.
These infernally lovable bottles and jars
are players in a waiting game:
they see through us
an afterlife of art,
white on white, unsigned, unframed,
pure presence
migrating to light.
30
Quadrant April 2015
Jan Owen
Wittgenstein’s Beetle
My mind is like a beetle in a box.
I open up the box to see it go.
It scuttles up and down and to and fro,
Telling me everything I want to know.
You have to be a hedgehog or a fox.
My mind is like a beetle in a box.
My universes are unnumbered clocks
And every one displays a different face
For each exigency of time and space,
Another person and another place,
Another bastard set of building blocks. My mind is like a beetle in a box.
Beached and benighted by a paradox,
Our age has lost the concept of degree.
I grieve for it myself incessantly.
If you weren’t you who would you wish to be?
You love the freedoms, can’t abide the frocks.
My mind is like a beetle in a box.
Pull down your knickers or pull up your socks.
It’s sex or standards and I don’t care which.
Now is decision time (the rest is kitsch)
And plans for getting seriously rich
Despite portfolios of falling stocks. My mind is like a beetle in a box.
Is it Christ’s blood or whisky on the rocks?
Is it the answer or the seventh clue?
Is it the angel or the bugaboo?
Who would you wish to be, if you weren’t you?
Is it the upsurge or the aftershocks?
My mind is like a beetle in a box.
Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Throw out those bloody clocks!
But yours and yours and yours are just the same.
We’re on a losing streak. We play the game.
The whole thing’s fucked and nobody’s to blame.
They’re digging down behind the hollyhocks.
My mind is like a beetle in a box.
They sank the blackened bodies in the docks
Which previously were given to the flame.
Who went is clear, a good deal less who came;
It all comes down to claim and counter-claim,
A neat solution, if unorthodox.
My mind is like a beetle in a box.
Doctor Donne Likened to My Cat Jack
(The beautiful opening couplet is from
Peter Ryan’s remembrance of Izaak Walton’s
“Life of Doctor John Donne”.)
Oh thorny, glowing, twisted heart
That walked the London streets a while,
Teach me to work your subtle art
And coax the sweetness from the bile.
Teach me my soul to recognise,
That wandering, sportful, wayward twin.
Teach me to see without my eyes.
Teach me to feel beyond my skin.
Here, in the coffin of my bed,
I cogitate on this and that,
God and his Angels at my head,
Warming my footsoles, Jack the Cat,
Soft fur-ball connoisseur of purr,
Who knows the thinginess of things,
Jack the divine philosopher,
Observer at the courts of kings.
Say Jack the Cat is Jack the Lad,
Cavorting with the muses nine,
And Jack the Priest, who tames the beast,
Turning the water into wine.
Sprucely, sure-footedly he stalks
Up Ludgate Hill to Old Saint Pauls.
O listen to the talk he talks
As kites foregather on the walls.
Watch, as he steps fastidiously,
Neatly evading fire and flame.
His glowing, twisted heart is free,
And Jack the Poet is his name.
Quadrant April 2015
John Whitworth
31
J oseph P ow er
The Shiite Crescent
Iran’s Growing Challenge to World Order
T
o honour Saddam Hussein’s sixty-fifth
birthday, a colossal effigy of the butcher was
erected in Baghdad’s Firdaus Square, just
opposite the Palestine Hotel. Just over a year later,
in 2003, American forces toppled the statue, symbolising the fall of the Hussein government, with
the man himself sharing the same fate a few years
later, courtesy of the hangman’s noose. Today, the
abstract sculpture that took its place is obscured by
a billboard of Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini.
Tehran, with subtlety influenced by millennia
of Persian statecraft, has been steadily expanding its regional influence through a combination
of diplomacy and a continual expansion of Shiite
non-state actors, predominantly taking the form of
militias in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and more recently
in Yemen. Iran now, in effect, controls three Arab
capitals: Damascus in Syria, Beirut in Lebanon
through Hezbollah, and the freshly conquered capital of Yemen, where Iranian-backed Houthi rebels
now control Sanaa. We are seeing the restoration
of a new Persian empire, this time under a revolutionary Islamic (more specifically, Shia) label. As
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put it
in his address to Congress:
Iran’s goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon,
its revolutionary guards on the Golan Heights
are clutching Israel with three tentacles of
terror. Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering
Syrians. Back by Iran, Shiite militias are
rampaging through Iraq. Backed by Iran,
Houthis are seizing control of Yemen,
threatening the strategic straits at the mouth
of the Red Sea. Along with the Straits of
Hormuz, that would give Iran a second
choke-point on the world’s oil supply.
Iran is doing so despite Washington’s attempts
at containment, and the analogous support of
Sunni militant groups in Syria by adversarial states
32
such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. During the gap
characterised by a passive US policy in the region,
Iran’s power and influence have grown enormously,
and the political desire in the West for involvement
in the conflict-shredded region has declined. Iran
rightly views itself as ascendant, or as “The Shadow
Commander”, Qassem Soleimani, head of the
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods-Force
(IRGC-QF) rather bluntly put it: “We’re not like
the Americans. We don’t abandon our friends.”
Iranian rhetoric, unchanged for a generation,
juxtaposes conviction and posturing in Iran’s challenge to the nature of regional—and world—order.
After its 1979 violation of the Westphalian principle
of diplomatic immunity by storming the American
embassy in Tehran, Iran presented, as Henry
Kissinger writes in his magisterial World Order, a
paradoxical wish to abolish the Westphalian state
system, while simultaneously asserting Westphalian
rights and privileges:
Iran’s clerical regime thus placed itself at the
intersection of two world orders, arrogating
the formal protections of the Westphalian
system even while repeatedly proclaiming
that it did not believe in it, would not be
bound by it, and intended ultimately to
replace it.
Implacably hostile to the West, Iran’s Supreme
Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, considers
the ultimate goal of the United States to be the
destruction of the Islamic Republic and an end to
the Islamic Revolution that began in 1979. As he
put it in May 2014:
This battle will only end when the society
can get rid of the oppressors’ front with
America at the head of it, which has
expanded its claws on human mind, body
and thought … This requires a difficult and
lengthy struggle ...
Quadrant April 2015
The Shiite Crescent
In 2006, the first direct contact between American
and Iranian heads of state since 1980 took the form
of a letter from the Iranian President, Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, to George W. Bush. Widely interpreted as an overture to a peaceful end to negotiations
over Iran’s nuclear program, Ahmadinejad’s letter
was signed off with the words, “Vasalam Ala Man
Ataba’al hoda”. In the 620s, Mohammad included
the same admonition in his correspondence with the
emperors of Byzantine and the Sassanid dynasty;
correspondence that was a prelude to Islamic holy
war against both empires.
The Shiite Crescent
I
n the years since 2006, the region has seen the
strengthening of an Iranian-led Shiite crescent,
from Tehran to the Mediterranean. The disintegration of social cohesion in Iraq, the brutal civil war
in Syria, Iran’s vast oil and gas reserves, and the
increasing strength of Iranian proxies have augmented Iran’s position as a key regional influence
at a time when the United States looks to increasingly disengage from the Middle East, in President
Obama’s “pivot” to Asia.
As far back as 2007, General David Petraeus
concluded that the Iranian-linked Mahdi Army
posed a greater threat to Iraq’s long-term security
than Al Qaeda. Petraeus argued in a weekly report
for Defense Secetary Robert Gates that he believed
that Iran was waging war against the USA:
Iran has gone beyond merely striving for
influence in Iraq and could be creating proxies
to actively fight us, thinking that they can keep
us distracted while they try to build WMD and
set up [the Mahdi Army] to act like Lebanese
Hezbollah in Iraq.
As Michael Weiss and Michael Pregent wrote
in the Daily Beast on this expansion of Iranian
power, “In Iraq and Syria, as we square off against
ISIS, the enemy of our enemy is not our friend, he
is our enemy, too.”
In a masterly new report, Phillip Smyth of
the Washington Institute describes how many
Shiite militias were re-moulded and trained by
both Iranian and Hezbollah forces, with advisers
from Hezbollah and the IRGC being attached to
units to influence their ideological and military
development.
Mohsen Milani wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2009
that Tehran has devised a strategy that aims for
“both deterrence and competition in the Middle
East” with the United States. It has responded to
Washington’s policy of containment with a strategy
of deterrence, comprising: asymmetric warfare,
including its support of anti-Western terrorist
organisations; the modernisation of its weapons
systems; developing indigenous missile and antimissile systems; and lastly, its nuclear program.
Syria
T
he result, especially since the outbreak of
the Syrian civil war and the (almost criminally neglected) mobilisation of Shiite fighters to
Syria, has seen the traditional strategic alliance
between Tehran and Damascus inflame the millennia-old schism between Shia and Sunni, fuelled
by an Iranian desire to revive waning support
for Ayatollah Khomeini and his ideal of Islamic
Revolution. Syria has become a way for Tehran to
bolster its position as the world centre of Shiite
Islam, and expand the Shiite Crescent that it leads.
The relationship between Damascus and Tehran
evolved after Hafez al-Assad became President of
Syria in 1971, and the relationship between his
government and the country’s Sunni “Muslim
Brothers” became increasingly antagonistic. While
carrying out various conciliatory gestures domestically, intending to placate Islamists at home, Assad
looked externally as well, beyond the West and
hostile neighbouring states to the Iranian opposition movement, headed by Khomeini.
Khomeini ignored Assad’s offer of political sanctuary after he was expelled from Iraq in
1978, instead settling in Paris, but upon returning
to Iran after the 1979 Revolution, he maintained
good relations with Syria, despite the Ba’ath party’s
declared position as a secular, socialist Arab state,
juxtaposed with Khomeini’s blending of political
and religious authority.
Syria’s Sunni Islamists soon began to see the
regime in Tehran for what it was: the intended
centre of Shiism in the Muslim world, rather than
an ally that transcended Islam’s sectarian lines.
The ostensibly secular regime of Saddam Hussein
began supporting the Muslim Brothers against
the (equally ostensibly) secular Assad government,
which enjoyed corresponding growth in support
from Iran.
The Tehran–Damascus alliance is never
stronger than in times of conflict, with no parallel
in modern Syrian history to the severity of the
country’s civil war, which began in March 2011. The
enormous and unprecedented military support that
Iran has given Damascus serves multiple purposes:
preventing the mutually beneficial government of
Bashar al-Assad from falling, keeping Syria as a
route for arms shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon,
keeping the organisation positioned in the Levant
Quadrant April 2015
33
The Shiite Crescent
as a deterrent against an Israeli attack on Tehran’s
nuclear program, and expanding its Pan-Shiite
influence.
The on-ground support that Iran offers the
Assad regime comes from Hezbollah and Iraqi
Shiite militias, which form the core of Tehran’s
proxy units in Syria. These groups are expanding an
IRGC-created network, who, as Smyth describes,
use the same messages, co-operate openly, and collaborate in the same operations. One such group,
the Badr Organisation, acted as Iran’s most important asset in Iraq during the US-led occupation
of Mesopotamia, and bragged in 2014 that it had
attacked US forces in Iraq as part of its recruitment
and propaganda efforts.
Syrian theatre to take places in the Iraqi parliament, using their war records to win votes. When
Abu Mousa al-Amiri, who served as a commander
in the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Asaib Ahl alHaqq (AAH)—formerly a militant unit within
the Mahdi Army, and currently helping Iraqis to
fight in Syria—ran for public office on the AAH’s
political ticket, his foreign fighting experience was
openly showcased on electoral posters. Another
AAH commander, Haji Jawad al-Talabwi, boasted
to the BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen,
of how the AAH had cut their teeth fighting
American and British forces in Iraq. He threatened to kill Sunnis who helped ISIS, “one by one
if necessary”.
The elevation of Mohammed al-Ghabban as
Iraq’s Interior Minister, after holding leading
Iraq
posts in the Badr Organisation, shows, as Smyth
s with Syria, Iran has heavily expanded its argues in the conclusion of his report, “ just how
influence in Baghdad to an extent not seen doggedly Iran is working, through both armed and
since before the Treaty of Zuhab in the seven- democratic methods, to thwart US efforts within
teenth century. The withdrawal of US forces under Iraq”. Despite the best efforts of a new Sunni–
President Obama, and the extensively sectar- Shiite–Kurdish inclusiveness in Iraq’s politics and
ian politics of former Iraqi Prime
military by Prime Minister Haider
Minister Nouri al-Maliki, saw
al-Abadi, if such a force would fail
both the marginalisation of the
ran’s ability and to either materialise, or falter on
country’s Sunni minority, and the
the battlefield against ISIS, the
desire to achieve
bolstering of Baghdad–Tehran ties.
ascendancy of this new Iranian-led
nuclear weapons
In an interview with Foreign Policy,
Shiite powerbase would likely be
Maliki argues that in the absence
to crush Iraq’s challenges by
have progressively used
of US support, Iraq had no choice
force, rather than by politics.
hardened, while
but to rely on Iranian weapons and
support when ISIS tore through
the West’s desire to Iran and the Bomb
the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and
prevent it occurring
erhaps the most vexing chalsacked Mosul last year.
lenge Iran poses, and the fulIn response to ISIS’s efforts in
has declined.
crum on which Iranian-Western
Iraq, Tehran has reportedly sent
relations will balance—at least
over 1000 military advisers to assist
the ISF, conducted air strikes against ISIS posi- in the short-term future—is Iran’s rapid advance
tions (with the somewhat awkward approval of towards the position of a nuclear weapons state.
US Secretary of State John Kerry) and is arming, This challenges the current regional and internatraining and funding Shiite militias, of which more tional order in three main ways: the ability of the
than 100,000 Iraqis are a part. These militias are international community (represented by the five
playing a vital role in expelling ISIS from the city permanent members of the UN Security Council,
plus Germany, the “P5+1”) to enforce nuclear nonof Tikrit.
What Weiss and Pregent call the “Hezbollah- proliferation; the military balance of the Middle
isation” of Iraq’s military is being headed by East, in which a nuclear Iran would become a
Soleimani. With a well-documented role in orches- hegemon (Israel excepted), and the risk of sparking
trating attacks on US servicemen, as well as prop- a nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile and
ping up the Assad regime in Syria, Soleimani has politically unstable region. On the last point, it was
been appearing in numerous battlefield photo- put rather bluntly by the Saudis: “If they [Iran] get
graphs across Iraq, generally on the front line in them, we get them.”
Iran’s ability and desire to achieve nuclear weapplaces where ISIS has been recently expelled by
ons have progressively hardened, while the West’s
Iraqi forces.
This influence is not restricted to the battlefield. desire to prevent it occurring has declined. Such is
Veteran foreign fighters have returned from the the extent of this increasing permissiveness that it
A
I
P
34
Quadrant April 2015
The Shiite Crescent
seems that any deal reached between the P5+1 and
Tehran will leave Iran on the cusp of nuclear-power
status; from which only a short, frantic push would
allow it to build nuclear weapons.
At the time of writing, alleged details of the
negotiations released to the Associated Press
describe the possibility of restrictions on Iran’s
nuclear program lasting for ten to fifteen years,
in return for the lifting of sanctions. Such a deal
would leave Iran’s “breakout” capability—the time
to enrich uranium to weapons levels—to around
one year. Consider that in 2004, the West insisted
that Iran terminate its enrichment permanently.
To be sure, if Iran was able to comprehensively
demonstrate that it had reduced its centrifuges and
enrichment to levels consistent with a peaceful civilian energy program, it would present the possibility of an epochal shift in Iranian-Western relations.
Those hopeful of such a shift often cite Richard
Nixon’s seminal opening to Beijing in the 1970s
as a comparative model, in which Washington–
Beijing relations quickly moved from hostility to
co-operation. Kissinger, one of the architects of this
plan, dismisses any such historical analogy in World
Order:
The comparison is not apt. China was facing
forty-two Soviet divisions on its northern border
after a decade of escalating mutual hostility and
Chinese internal turmoil ... Iran has witnessed
the removal of two of its most significant
adversaries, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan
and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq ... Two of its
principal competitors for regional influence,
Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have been preoccupied
by internal challenges.
If Iran were to become a nuclear weapons state,
it would not mark the end of the current crisis, but,
rather, its metamorphosis into a new and complex
problem. Tehran has watched, on the one hand,
the interventions against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq
and Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya, two states that either
failed to acquire nuclear weapons or gave them up,
and, on the other hand, the relative lack of outside interference against states that have acquired
nuclear weapons—Pakistan and North Korea, to
name just two.
Some pundits and commentators refer to
Iran’s jihadist rhetoric, espoused by such figures
as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as a warning that a
nuclear Iran would, if able, either attack Israel or
the West. In reality, Iran’s foreign policy is overseen
by calculating ayatollahs, not messianic sadists bent
on their own destruction. After the US leviathan
force cut through Saddam Hussein’s forces like
a hot knife through snow, Iran immediately suspended their nuclear program entirely, in the fear
that they would be next.
The question, then, is what nuclear posture a
weaponised Iran would take. Whether it chooses an
Israeli-esque position of nuclear opacity (a “known
nuclear power” that refuses to confirm or deny its
status) or flaunts its capability, the posture that Iran
chooses has the potential to change the dynamics of
the region massively and, perhaps, offer it the use of
more coercive diplomacy in times of crises. The difference between hair-trigger readiness, and a more
subtle posture, is huge.
Would a nuclear-weaponised Iran feel obliged
to curb its new network of IRGC-led Shiite militias, which are currently expanding its influence
throughout the region, at the request of the international community? Or would it feel the status quo
would be more beneficial, that it could simply stay
its course with its new-found deterrence? Would
its ascendant militias feel bolder, or less so, resting
underneath an Iranian nuclear umbrella?
A US-Iranian “spring”?
T
hough quite some distance from the naive
Wilsonians who took us into the Iraq quagmire in 2003, it seems that US foreign policy under
President Obama has slipped into equanimity,
rather than strategy. Dragged back to Mesopotamia
due to the rise of ISIS, the Obama administration
would do well to use their reluctant re-engagement
in the region to balance Iran, with a combination of
their own presence and diplomacy, and adversarial
Sunni states, to secure a satisfactory conclusion to
nuclear negotiations.
Anthony Cordesman from the Center for
Strategic and International Studies argues that, in
purely objective terms, the USA, the Sunni Gulf
states and Iran have more to gain from a co-operative relationship than an adversarial one: by curbing the rise and safe havens of Salafi-jihadi terror
groups in the region, and shifting focus towards
regional stability and development.
The USA should make it clear that they’re out
of the regime change business, and that a nuclear
Iran would be a pariah state in the eyes of the international community. Regional nuclear hegemony
would be offset by a continuation of heavy economic sanctions, and the US nuclear umbrella
that it has promised its Sunni allies. While Iran’s
ability to wage asymmetric warfare is growing and
impressive, the southern Gulf states have a major
lead in conventional military capability, which is,
of course, a major reason Iran has sought nuclear
weapons. The USA must make an Iranian nuclear
Quadrant April 2015
35
The Shiite Crescent
capability utterly unappealing to Iranians.
The perceived balance of power in the Middle
East’s short term depends very much on the outcome of the nuclear negotiations. While Sunni–
Shia competition will inevitably continue between
Iran and the Gulf states, an agreement seen as
weak from a Western perspective will be regarded
as a major Iranian victory, heightening the risk
of a regional nuclear arms race. As Cordesman
notes, while successful nuclear negotiations (from
a Western perspective) are unlikely to lead to a
“spring” in the US–Sunni–Shia trilateral, there
is no reason why they cannot be used as a “useful
prelude to broader improvements in political and
strategic relations”, especially with active US and
Arab containment and deterrence of Iran, as strategic competition diverts into other areas outside the
nuclear realm.
The proliferation of Iranian-backed Shiite militias may have extended Iran’s regional influence, but
contributes to the militant sectarianism that led to
the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq. The USA, possibly backed by the UN Security Council, and with
the co-operation of regional powers, should head a
forceful response to Sunni–Shia sectarianism, lest
it metastasise more severely than it has already. To
this end, Sunni states have their own roles to play,
particularly Turkey, with its porous south-eastern
border, and the Gulf states, who have shown indictable equanimity regarding their citizenry funding
Salafi-jihadist organisations, including ISIS and Al
Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, Jabhat al-Nusra.
The aforementioned amounts to the best possible—arguably idealistic—outcome that the West
can attain. It depends on an active and engaged
USA, enlightened statecraft, and a hope that Iran’s
actions owe more to strategic ends than revolutionary, ideological ones.
Joseph Power is Editor-in-Chief of the Transnational
Review, which is published by the Australian Institute
of International Affairs.
Dark Thoughts
The numbers are unnumbered of the beasts that shun the light,
And they have a superfluity of teeth.
They are waiting for the triumph of the overarching night
To eviscerate your tender underneath.
How they pullulate and populate the landscapes of your dreaming,
How you feel them in the darkness of your soul.
And you hear them as they rustle through your wilderness of seeming
In the sightless lightless kingdom of the mole.
Some spectacular diseases of a provenance perverse
Have been suppurating through their carapaces,
And the fetor of corruption has been getting worse and worse
As they jostle in their subterranean places.
When the lights go out for ever on this poor benighted sphere,
They will clamber from their burrows down below.
They are coming with a drumming and a humming, do you hear?
They are coming and you’ve nowhere else to go.
36
John Whitworth
Quadrant April 2015
M a rk M c G in ness
From Gatherum to Gulgong
Anthony Trollope in Australia
O
n April 24, 1815, just off Russell Square in
Bloomsbury, with Napoleon just across the
Channel and weeks away from defeat at
Waterloo, Anthony Trollope came into the world;
a world which he would recreate more perceptively,
credibly and readably than any other novelist in that
great age of fiction. In his lifetime Britain reached
its apogee and its empire grew and Trollope, a man
of astonishing energy and endless curiosity—even
in late middle age—spent years travelling throughout the English-speaking world. His bicentenary seems a good reason to recall his
visit to Australia in 1871. He was, as Nigel Starck
observes in his fascinating account of that visit (and
borrows for his title), The First Celebrity.
No one of such fame had reached our shores
before. Charles Darwin had landed in Sydney as
long ago as January 1836 when the Beagle dropped
anchor. He was “rather disappointed in the state of
society”, and thought that “agriculture can never
succeed on an extended scale” but he was only
twenty-six and his Origin of Species was still more
than two decades away. The politician and author
Charles Dilke, who had visited in 1867 and produced Greater Britain: A Record of Travel in EnglishSpeaking Countries during 1866 and 1867, was also
a young man—twenty-three—and still to make
his mark. Later in 1867, Queen Victoria’s second
son, the twenty-three-year-old Alfred, Duke of
Edinburgh, came to visit, but he was a royal when
royals were royals, not celebrities.
Charles Dickens had contemplated a lecture tour
of Australia in 1862 and intended to write a travel
book, The Uncommercial Traveller Upside Down, but
the tour was abandoned. Instead, two of his sons,
Alfred and Edward, perhaps hoping to get rich like
Magwitch, emigrated to New South Wales.
The First Celebrity: Anthony Trollope’s
Australasian Odyssey
by Nigel Starck
Lansdown Media, 2014, 192 pages, $29.95
But by 1871, Anthony Trollope was a celebrated
Man of Letters, and had written twenty-five novels. His classic, ecclesiastical six-novel Barchester
series was complete with the publication of The Last
Chronicle of Barset (1867). The fourth novel in that
series, Framley Parsonage (published as a serial in
1860-61), had brought him enormous popularity.
His fellow writer Mrs Gaskell was moved to comment, “I wish Mr Trollope would go on writing
Framley Parsonage forever.” As he wrote The Last Chronicle, he overheard
two clergymen at the Athenaeum Club abusing his
practice of introducing reappearing characters, singling out Mrs Proudie— one of literature’s most
memorable bishops, a century and a half before the
Church permitted the ordination of women. “I got
up,” Trollope said, “and standing between them, I
acknowledged myself to be the culprit. ‘As to Mrs
Proudie,’ I said, ‘I will go home and kill her before
the week is over.’ And so I did.” He regretted killing her but he thought The Last Chronicle his best
novel. He was at the pinnacle of his career.
He had also distinguished—and endeared—
himself by then with one of his loveliest creations,
Lady Glencora Palliser, who first appeared in the
penultimate Barsetshire novel, The Small House at
Allington (1864). Glencora was one of a number of
witty, bright, complex, original women he would
bring to life. She and her husband, Plantagenet,
would sustain his magnificent parliamentary saga,
The Pallisers, for six novels. As the Barchester series
was about the Church, The Pallisers were about
politics, but the appeal of both was that they were not
just about ambition. There were love and marriage,
justice and morality, poverty and patronage, sport
and chance, country life and city living; but most
of all they were about character; about real people.
Virginia Woolf, the most fastidious of critics, wrote
of him that readers believe in Trollope’s characters
“as we do in the reality of our weekly bills”, that they
get from his novels “the same sort of refreshment
and delight that we get from seeing something
actually happen in the street below”.
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37
From Gatherum to Gulgong
T
rollope’s domestic life was rather a closed book
In Melbourne he was feted in verse by Melbourne
but his marriage to Rose Heseltine (according Punch as “a laurel-crowned romancer”. He found a
to his biographer and editor of his letters, N. John city that possessed few advantages of natural geoHall, “the great unknown in Trollope’s life”), whom graphic charm but had built itself, on the proceeds
he had met in Ireland when he worked as a surveyor of the gold rush, into a “magnificent” metropolis of
for the Post Office, was as contented and ordered 200,000 people with “an air of wholesomeness and
as his childhood and schooldays had been desolate space … noble streets” and “no squalor to be seen”.
and chaotic. They had two sons, Harry and Fred. Although he was unimpressed with Australian fine
In 1865, seventeen-year-old Fred resolved to try wines, the one he liked best was what he called the
life in Australia and, having honoured a promise vin ordinaire from Yering in the Yarra Valley.
to come home to England, in 1865, before finally
He wrote that his lifelong quest for the world’s
deciding, he convinced his father to buy a station most beautiful harbour ended when he sailed into
near Grenfell, New South Wales, called “Mortray”, Sydney. He also recalled “that loveliest of all places,
a three-room, single-storeyed, verandahed home- the public gardens at Sydney”. After a week in
stead with a horse paddock of 250 acres for his Sydney he joined the latest gold rush in Gulgong,
twenty horses and 27,500 acres for
“a rough place” but not without
his 10,000 sheep.
its charms, where the chair of his
And so on May 24, 1871, Trollope
reception was Thomas Alexander
e had a desk built Browne,
and Rose set sail on the Great
who as Rolf Boldrewood
on board the Great would write Robbery under Arms.
Britain “to see my son among his
sheep”. He was also canny enough
From Gulgong, he went to
Britain by the ship’s
to seal a deal to write a book about
Ballarat, the richest site of alluvial
Australia and New Zealand and carpenter and by the gold in the world. He was appalled
a series of articles for the London
by the “horrid dissipation” on the
time he and Rose
Daily Telegraph.
fields but on the whole, “I
reached Melbourne gold
A few months earlier he had
do not think that there is any city
eight weeks later he close to it that has sprung from gold
published Sir Harry Hotspur of
Humblethwaite, which tellingly had written the whole alone.”
recorded that it was natural for a
He found Adelaide had the best
of “Lady Anna”.
father’s love for his children to be
asylum and Tasmania was the pretstronger than theirs for him. Ralph
tiest of the colonies. In Western
Australia, the governor of Rottnest
the Heir, based on his bruising experience as a Liberal candidate for parliament, was Island prison arranged a corroboree for him. He left
being serialised; The Eustace Diamonds was about five shillings for tobacco for the performers. While
to be; and Phineas Redux, the third in his Palliser his views on the Aborigines and their future are
series, was finished and in a strongbox awaiting repugnant, he felt it was wrong that white prisonpublication. He had a desk built on board the Great ers got tobacco as a right, while black ones had to
Britain by the ship’s carpenter and by the time he dance for theirs. Before he left Albany, the resident
and Rose reached Melbourne eight weeks later he magistrate certified, “that the bearer, A. Trollope …
had written the whole of Lady Anna—sixty-six is not and never has been a prisoner of the Crown in
pages a week, 250 words a page, as he boasted in his Western Australia”.
Autobiography. He claimed to write novels the same
ut at the heart of the visit was Fred. The Trollopes
way he took hedges when he hunted—he closed
spent a month in October and November 1871
his eyes and charged like hell without a thought of
at Mortray. Trollope would sit under a tree in the
what might lie on the other side.
He was an indefatigable traveller too. As Dr garden and do his allotted pages of writing before
breakfast. His best biographer, Richard Mullen,
Starck puts it:
imagined that the endless diet of mutton must have
Over twelve months and two days, he would
made Trollope recall his wretched schooldays at
ride into the loneliness of the bush, travel to
Winchester, although Rose and their cook did their
and through all six colonies by steam-ship,
best to vary it.
and steam-train and stage-coach, descend
Conscious that Fred had decided to make his
mines, explore caves, tour asylums, invade an
life in Australia, Trollope was careful not to be too
opium den, give evidence to a parliamentary
trenchant in his observations (the reaction to his
committee, hunt kangaroos and interview
mother Fanny’s Domestic Manners of the Americans
convicts.
in 1832 would still have been ringing in his ears).
H
B
38
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From Gatherum to Gulgong
But still, some of his judgments rankled. His main
grievance was the population’s self-adulation (“a
tendency to blow”, he called it) “in the way of riding, driving, fighting, walking, working, drinking, love-making, and speech-making”. He found
Melbourne the worst offender:
You hear it and hear of it every day. They
blow a good deal in Queensland; a good deal
in South Australia. They blow even in poor
Tasmania. They blow loudly in New South
Wales … But the blast of the trumpet as heard
in Victoria is louder than all the blasts and the
Melbourne blast beats all the other blowing of
that proud colony.
His account of his visit, Australia and New
Zealand, appeared in 1873, a thumping 1049 pages
long. Richard Mullen thought that at times it “read
more like a surveyor’s report to the GPO than a
travel book” but “what emerged was a pervading
spirit of friendliness and pride”.
His Australian experiences also inspired two
novels. The hero of his Christmas story, Harry
Heathcote of Gangoil (1874) was Fred, only lightly disguised, with his property relocated to Queensland,
“ready to work himself to the bone” for his adoring
young wife. In 1879, in John Caldigate, he devoted
four chapters to Australia, recalling the grimness
of the gold fields.
Despite Fred’s years of hard work, his venture
was defeated by recession and drought and his father
sailed again to Australia in 1875 to help his beloved
son settle his debts. Fred abandoned Mortray and
purchased some back blocks near Cobar but they
were never worked. He found a job in the Lands
Department. Dr Starck reveals that years later, in a
neat twist, Fred—and Charles Dickens’s youngest
son, Edward (“Plorn”)—were appointed honorary
magistrates in the Wilcannia district—a world away
from the chancery benches of Jarndyce v Jarndyce.
T
rollope had turned sixty on his second antipodean voyage but carried on producing novels to the end. Rather like his characters, he had
contradictions of his own. A friend described him:
“Crusty, quarrelsome, wrong-headed, prejudiced,
obstinate, kind-hearted and thoroughly honest old
Tony Trollope.” As his most affectionate biographer, Victoria Glendinning, wrote
Anthony’s inner and outer selves confused
many who met him. How could this loud,
obstreperous man be the Anthony Trollope
who wrote with such extraordinary insight
into the hearts of men; and, even more
extraordinary, the hearts of women? ... when
he sat alone at his writing table … He had a
genius that was released by another and related
duality.
So there was some irony when on November 3,
1882, dining with family, he suffered a seizure while
laughing at a passage of F. Anstey’s comic novel,
Vice Versa, as it was being read to him by a niece.
He never recovered and a month later the Guardian
alerted the rectories and vicarages of England that
their chronicler was “in a very critical state”. He
died on December 6, 1882, and was buried at Kensal
Green, twenty years after he had followed his friend
Thackeray’s coffin there.
As the remarkable Coral Lansbury, mother of
Malcolm Turnbull, summed up in her scholarly
study of Trollope, Reasonable Man: Trollope’s Legal
Fiction (1981):
When asked once to define the special quality
of Trollope, the Philadelphia jurist Henry
Drinker spoke of his “deep reasonableness”.
It is this reasonableness in an unreasonable
world that has always comforted and reassured
Trollope’s readers.
One cannot but wish that more of our politicians
read him.
Although he was never without his devotees—the Brownings, Tolstoy, Churchill, Harold
Macmillan, Noel Coward, Gore Vidal—his reputation waned. Today his work is again valued and
he is feted. His forty-seven novels, all now in print
(even bettering his prolific mother who had written forty-one books), and a cast of peerless characters—not just Glencora Palliser and Mrs Proudie
but Laura Standish and Lizzie Eustace, Septimus
Harding and Obadiah Slope, Mr Chaffanbrass and
Madame Max Goesler, the old Duke of Omnium
and Phineas Finn, Archdeacon Grantly and Johnny
Eames, Isabel Boncassen and Signora Neroni.
And as for Trollope’s long-held wish—the
spread of English civilisation into every part of
the world—Dr Starck tells us that all of Trollope’s
descendants, through Fred, now live in Australia,
and, what’s more, his great-great grandson, also
Anthony, has become Sir Anthony Trollope, 17th
Baronet of Casewick. How like so many of his
great ancestor’s characters—a venerable title won
through chance and misadventure.
Mark McGinness, a frequent contributor and noted
obituarist, is living in Dubai.
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39
The Saturday Evening Post
Those Norman Rockwell covers
back there in the ’50s ...
the Huck Finn boy with fishing rod,
those faithful black retainers,
the old men all avuncular,
the women straight from Doris Day
or suddenly advanced to grandmas,
a smell of cookies in the kitchen.
The draughtsmanship was so convincing,
The Shopper
the detail in the detail.
Inside would be the ads for what
we’d soon be calling “whitegoods”,
Mostly we survive our clothes
but some, of course, outlive us.
That’s why I’m using op-shops now.
hygienic and efficient,
a measure of our “Modern Age”
like Popular Mechanics.
Interesting, how every year
there’s more and more that fits.
I think of all those vanished torsos
We knew, just entering our teens,
that, not long back, the U.S.A.
had “saved our ass”—but that was not
that once filled out the shirts,
the widows clearing built-in ’robes
then starting up the car.
the term we used back then.
The Hit Parade arrived each week,
liltingly with splendid teeth.
Taken up or taken in,
such trousers are a windfall plainly—
the entropy of fabric v
Norman Rockwell caught it all,
some would say “invented” it—
those timeless, spare New England towns,
the entropy of flesh.
Of course there’s stuff one wouldn’t touch—
ill-cut rayon, plastic shirts
the mythic Mississippi.
Our parents spoke of Eisenhower
but not so very often.
that wear, despite a row of owners,
the sweatshop smell about them.
I still endure that sense of class
Suddenly, in ’69,
we turned around and saw
The Saturday Evening Post had not
survived our disenchantment. a boarding school bequeathed me
but worry rather less each year
when drifting through the racks.
I step into a cubicle
to see how well my shape will fill
a coat that once graced other shoulders
or pants abandoned by the dead.
40
Quadrant April 2015
Geoff Page
P hilip D r ew
How Frank Gehry Imposed
Hollywood Narcissism on Ultimo
S
ydney, it is said, now has a rival to the
Sydney Opera House. Whether or not the
Dr Chau Chak Wing Building at Ultimo for
the University of Technology Sydney is an iconic
masterpiece, and Frank Gehry the world’s greatest architect, time alone will decide. One thing is
undeniable: Ultimo will never look or be the same.
***
A mannerist work of art is always a piece of bravura,
a triumphant conjuring trick, a firework display with
flying sparks and colours … Beauty too beautiful
becomes unreal, strength too strong becomes acrobatics,
too much content loses all meaning, form independent of
content becomes an empty shell.
—Arnold Hauser, Mannerism (1965)
n a visit to the USA I pulled in to a beach
house by Charles Gwathmey on Long Island.
Gwathmey, at that time, was a rising architectural
star on the East Coast. His house was a fashionable timber imitation of a Le Corbusier Paris artist studio. It was strikingly simple and sat behind
the leading dune with a bridge extending seaward.
Gwathmey was already there, and standing beside
him in the newly installed kitchen was the doting
client.
As I walked in, I noticed her body trembled visibly with excitement. She seemed on the point of
orgasm. Short, slightly built and balding, Gwathmey
was a most unlikely object of such sexual attention.
Yet, the client’s visible excitement was unmistakable. This was my first intimation of a phenomenon
that was so very American and unthinkable back in
Australia—the architect as hero. It later occurred
to me that American attitudes to architects were
shaped by movies like The Fountainhead, which was
based on Ayn Rand’s fictionalised account of Frank
Lloyd Wright’s life that presented architects as defiant romantic heroes.
Today we are accustomed to celebrity culture.
O
It is passé. However, the inclusion of an architect,
even one as famous as Frank Gehry, the author
of the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building for UTS in
Sydney, in this circle of fame is something quite
new. Narcissism is hardly recent, but it has reached
unprecedented heights, and there is now no shame
attached to falling in love with oneself. The culture of narcissism manifests itself in extremes and
Gehry’s newly opened Wing Building in Sydney is
the perfect illustration of an architecture that is so
extreme in its indulgence of the arbitrary whilst, at
the same time, brooking all criticism.
Gehry is a Californian architect based in Los
Angeles who came to world attention with his striking Bilbao Guggenheim Art Museum in 1997 that
helped revitalise that city. The client brief for Bilbao
asked Gehry to make a design with a similar impact
and transformative effect as the Opera House on
Sydney.
Until quite recently, architecture was a profession
that attracted little media notice. This changed with
the advent of the star architect. Gehry epitomises
the extravagant culture that prevails in Los Angeles,
inspired by the artificial values of the film industry
there. Hollywood has reshaped the image of architects as idealistic non-conformists touched by the
gold dust of artistic genius. Los Angeles is so much
more than the home of the US movie industry, it is
also the world capital of narcissism. Movie actors
are surrounded by publicity and adoring fans, their
antics are entertainment for the masses. To a degree
Gehry’s architecture is shaped by the same values
that pervade Hollywood. It is no surprise to find
Gehry’s buildings immersed in the same narcissism
and self-indulgent extravagant displays. Frank Gehry is a recent exemplar of that
Hollywood cliché. His architecture is loudly
proclaimed as the world’s greatest. Gehry exemplifies
the Hollywood mould of the rugged individualistic
artist, thereby satisfying America’s need for its
very own romanticised home-grown version of
Michelangelo.
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41
how Frank Gehry imposed holly wood narcissism on ultimo
In certain respects the picture is almost accu- The staircase is an extraordinary sculpture, perhaps
rate. Michelangelo was a sculptor turned fresco the most dazzling thing of its kind in Australia and
painter who turned to architecture and dedicated an instance of Mannerism par excellence in which
his final years to the design and completion of St the function is secondary. Standing at the top of
Peter’s Basilica. Michelangelo was also a manner- the stair, we are no longer ordinary, we enter a new
ist who turned the established classical formulae of cinematic realm beside Scarlett O’Hara or Rhett
the Renaissance on its head. Similarly, Gehry is an Butler in Gone with the Wind. The stair is conceived
architect turned sculptor. His scribbles, his wayward as a film set, and we become unwitting actors. The
twisted sculptures, are all part of his personal archi- object is one of self-observation and adoration,
tectural signature, which in Italian was referred to and every turn, every gesture we make is captured
as his maniera, manner or peculiar style.
and sent back to us in a continuous parade of selfGehry’s manner attacks the most fundamental reflections. Its effect is more intense than any selfie.
founding principles of Modern architecture. It is
The Wing Building is a variegated puzzle-work.
anti-Modern. Gehry’s defiantly anti-Modern designs We look in vain for the whole, but, instead, we are
overturn such rules as structural integrity, truth to confronted by a collection of fragments. Fracturing
materials, rational simple cubic forms, and elimina- of form is common throughout the building whether
tion of extraneous unnecessary decoration. At first on the western glass facade, or reception desks
glance they appear revolutionary. The most obvious that are reduced to a series of faceted surfaces that
change of agenda is his rejection of
obscure the form itself. The result is
minimalism (the discovery—“Less
a kind of fractured kaleidoscope of
is more”—that the elimination
annerism sucks visual effects.
of everything extraneous has the
This reflects our present era of
all meaning out of material excess with its accompaunexpected effect of heightening
the aesthetic) in favour of excess.
nying breathless excitement. Gehry
architecture and
Gehry throws restraint overboard.
is driven by a compulsion to cram
leaves it an empty as many frantic curves as possible
For Gehry, “The more the better!”
shell. It is charged into the interior and exterior of the
He loves excess and celebrates the
consumer injunction to buy more of
Wing Building.
with aggression,
everything as the road to happiness.
The Wing Building is a clever
anxiety and
demonstration of aesthetic excess.
glance at the new Wing
instability, qualities The crowded curves, the expresBuilding is sufficient demsion of brick as a loosely draped
that ultimately
onstration of where this takes
limp textile denies that material’s
architecture. Not only is the brick
leave us alienated. true character. Inside, the concrete
exterior a race-track of curves that
structure is treated with a similar
crash together around the cirirrational disdain of logic, only one
cuit; the building itself appears about to fall down. of its numerous columns being permitted to stand
Gehry celebrates the superfluous and over-states the vertical. Several hundred tons of laminated radiata
unnecessary.
pine logs imported from New Zealand are stacked
Just like Narcissus who fell in love with his one on top of the other to make a primitive log cabin
reflection in the water, Gehry performs a similar enclosure around an oval-shaped classroom.
service with his extraordinary creation of a mirror
The building illustrates the cross-over between
staircase so that we may do the same. The stainless real life and fantasy, between real life and cinema,
steel stair squeezes uncomfortably into the small in which architecture as a catalyst transports us into
foyer on the south Ultimo Road entry. The effect a glamorous unreality.
of being too big for its container is similar to
All the weird and wonderful shapes architects
Michelangelo’s 1526 Laurentian Library stair in once dreamed of can be generated on computer 3D
Florence. Its fracture into countless small reflecting software. Computers aid but do not tell us how such
mirrors makes it impossible for anyone approaching impossible fantasies can be built. One wonders what
it to take it in, such is the fragmentation of its the Sydney Opera House might have looked like if
visual shape. The impact of so many small mirrors such software had been available to Jørn Utzon back
is analogous to military camouflage; we are so in 1960. Would it resemble his original competition
overwhelmed by the strong visual patterns that the drawings, a low horizontal series of ten-centimetrestair becomes invisible. All we can see is a mélange thick shells, in lieu of the heavy deep folded concrete
of incomplete reflections. The stair is a reminder of vaults that stand upright at attention today?
Mannerism’s narcissistic obsession with mirrors.
Mannerism fixated on breaking rules, distortion,
M
A
42
Quadrant April 2015
how Frank Gehry imposed holly wood narcissism on ultimo
discord, compression, elongation, strangeness and
contorted shapes. Gehry’s initial schemes for his
UTS building suggest a building in mid-collapse.
Most of us at some time have seen videos of structures being demolished. Gehry’s early models are
just like that. His brickwork is distorted, windows
twist out of shape, and the building skin is crumpled to indicate collapse. A certain amount of this
was lost and is less apparent in the finished building,
however on the east facade facing the city, a great
vertical tear survives that looks more like a rip in a
textile curtain than heavy brick.
T
he gesture is a further reminder of Gehry’s
Mannerism. The Italian painter Giulio Romano
designed a place for the Duke of Mantua in 1530
based on the very same notion of a destroyed world
in ruin. His seeming classical facades are overrun by
wild rustication symbolising nature on the rampage,
triglyphs fall, and the main salon is decorated by a
terrifying fresco of giants crushed beneath the falling stones of temples gripped by a powerful psychic
earthquake. Romano’s imagery could just as easily
have been painted in 2008 to depict American banks
under attack that were supposedly too big to fail,
necessitating their hasty rescue by the US government. The import of Gehry’s architecture could not
be clearer. We live in a dangerous and uncertain age
threatened by climate change and Islamic extremism, leaving us trapped in a state of permanent anxiety that is further amplified by the media. Nothing
could be more natural or understandable under such
conditions than the reappearance of Mannerism.
Narcissism comes at a price: negligible for a
selfie, hugely damaging and ruinously expensive
when a bank or financial institution is mismanaged and investors are defrauded of their savings,
as happened with the GFC. Mannerism also has
its victims: the unwitting UTS clients thought they
were buying a certified $180 million masterpiece.
Instead, what they got was a masterpiece of disillusionment mocking corporate corruption, instability and greed in high finance. Such imagery mirrors
a society that has lost all sense of reality, a society
moreover in which economics drives everything,
and vision and truth are supplanted by mendacity of
a kind the Tennessee Williams character Big Daddy
hated so much. The Dr Chau Chak Wing Building
mirrors society’s anxieties in the aftermath of the
Global Financial Crisis, much as Romano’s infamous Palazzo del Te registered a similar shock in
Italy after the sack of Rome in 1527 by Spanish and
German mercenaries.
Mannerism is unlikely to last, with its exclusive
focus on style as an end and its disconnect from
reality—the world can only take so many twisted
city towers before boredom sets in. The worst thing
is that Mannerism sucks all meaning out of architecture and leaves it an empty shell, tantalisingly
extravagant, seductive perhaps, but devoid of relevance. It is charged with aggression, anxiety and
instability, qualities that ultimately leave us alienated. In sixteenth-century Italy, Mannerism was
overtaken and replaced by the rhetoric of Baroque.
Likewise, Gehry’s embrace of narcissism leaves his
buildings vulnerable. Architecture, after all, is about
more than sculpture on a grand scale. Buildings
have purpose; they are used by people, very ordinary
people for the most part. We may be entertained
for a time by the flying sparks and colours, but only
time will tell what is truly a master work.
Philip Drew is a Sydney architectural historian,
critic, and author of over twenty titles including the
classic, Leaves of Iron, a biography of the Opera House
designer Joern Utzon, a cultural history of the veranda,
and a study of the littoral construction of Australian
culture, The Coast Dwellers.
Men like this risked their lives to
preserve our traditional
Australian culture
All we ask is that you join us today
as we stand up for their legacy
British Australian Community
P.O. Box 707
South Yarra, 3141
www.britishaustraliancommunity.com
Quadrant April 2015
43
K ev in D on nelly
The Place of Religion
in a Secular Curriculum
The secular state arose for the first time in history,
abandoning and excluding as mythological any divine
guarantee or legitimation of the political element,
and declaring God is a private question that does
not belong to the public sphere or to the democratic
formation of the public will.
—Joseph Ratzinger, “The Spiritual Roots of
Europe: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”, in
Ratzinger and Pera, Without Roots: The West,
Relativism, Christianity, Islam
P
ublished in 2006, the book from which the
above quotation is taken explores the increasing secularisation of the Western world and the
loss of a sacred, transcendent view of life embodied
by Christianity. In his essay Ratzinger (later Pope
Benedict XVI) describes a modern Europe where
the Christian religion is banished from the public
square and where there is a widespread inability or
unwillingness, in part, because of postmodern theory, to make judgments of relative worth.
Anthony O’Hear (“Religion and Public Life”,
Quadrant, March 2015) also explores the intersection between religion and the state, with a particular focus on Christianity. While accepting that the
state has a role to play as it provides a “framework
in which people can lead peaceful and orderly lives”,
O’Hear, like Ratzinger, warns against what he
describes as the rise of “aggressively strident official
secularism”. He provides the state’s increasing influence on education, illustrated by the British national
curriculum and national testing, as an example of
this imbalance. Additional examples, representing
what O’Hear describes as “the illiberal abuse of
state power”, involve the Conservative government
forcing schools to teach gay rights and admonishing
Jewish and Christian schools for failing to teach the
officially endorsed line concerning homosexuality
and multiculturalism.
Such is the strident nature of the British government’s campaign to enforce state-sanctioned
thinking that Durham Free School, a Christian
44
faith-based school, is being forced to close because
of an adverse report by school inspectors. According
to the inspectors, and based on a small number of
children being unfamiliar with Islam, the school,
supposedly, is guilty of “failing to prepare students
for life in modern Britain. Some students hold discriminatory views of other people who have different faiths, values or beliefs from themselves.”
In opposition to what is described as “an overmighty and illiberal state power”, O’Hear advocates
“a pluralist view of society in which religion has a
role to play distinct from that of the secular power
or sovereign”. Much of his critique also applies to
Australia, where school education has become an
instrument employed by secular critics to undermine
the contribution of Christianity to the nation’s history and the ability of faith-based schools to remain
financially viable and true to their mission.
Enforcing a cultural-Left secular agenda
C
ardinal George Pell (“Religious Freedom in
an Age of Militant Secularism”, Quadrant,
October 2013) warns against government authorities and secular organisations imposing “a particular
worldview” on religious institutions and individuals. In relation to faith-based schools, of which the
overwhelming majority in Australia are Catholic
schools, organisations like the Australian Education
Union have a long history of attempting to undermine such schools by restricting funding and imposing a cultural-Left agenda.
Australia has a tripartite system of education,
involving government, independent and faith-based
schools, where 20 per cent of students are enrolled
in Catholic schools. Religious schools, as well as
non-government schools in general, receive funding from state and Commonwealth governments
and there is a consensus among the major political parties and the Australian community that such
schools should be supported. Not so the Australian
Education Union (AEU), which argues:
Quadrant April 2015
The Place of Religion in a Secular Curriculum
wrong to assume that students, during the course
of their compulsory curriculum, should be familiar with the Bible. The AEU’s submission to the
Commonwealth review of the national curriculum
carried out in 2014 argues that the Bible has no
place in the curriculum: “One need only glance
overseas to discover what unfolds when the overly
zealous seek to impose the teaching of a holy book
Article 5.1 (b) of the UN Convention Against as a mandated element of a school curriculum.”
Discrimination in Education states that parents
Not only is the assertion that knowledge of the
should be free to choose a school that best embod- Bible will lead to sectarian discord unproven, the
ies their religious beliefs and that the religious and AEU also ignores existing state government legismoral education their children receive should be “in lation that allows both non-government and govconformity with their own convictions”. Implied in ernment schools to include teaching about religion,
such a declaration is the belief that parents should and by implication the Bible, in their curriculum.
not be financially penalised for choosing religious
It is true that the West Australian legislation
schools.
states that the “curriculum and teaching in
As argued by O’Hear, the freedom to choose government schools is not to promote any
is especially relevant in the context of a liberal, particular religious practice, denomination or sect”.
democratic society on the basis that
At the same time that legislation
“no one has such a comprehensive
states that such a clause should
monopoly of wisdom as to have the
not “be read as preventing—(a)
ustralia is
right to impose that view on everythe inclusion of general religious
predominantly a
one else”.
education in the curriculum of a
In addition to seeking to jeop- Christian nation. The school; or (b) prayers, songs and
ardise the financial viability of non- nation’s political and other material based on religious,
government schools, the AEU, like
spiritual or moral values being
the Australian Greens, argues that legal institutions and used in a school activity as part
religious schools should no longer
much of its history of general religious education”.
be able to discriminate in relation
The Victorian legislation also
and culture can only allows
to who they employ. Such critics
schools to include teaching
also argue that faith-based schools
be fully understood about religion, when it states
should have non-discriminatory
that it is permissible to teach
in the context of
enrolment policies.
students “about the major forms of
Christianity.
In its submission to the
religious thought and expression
Commonwealth’s review of anticharacteristic of Australian society
discrimination laws the AEU
and other societies in the world”.
argues: “An exception for religious organisations
Given that Christianity is Australia’s dominant
which would enable them to discriminate on the religion, both in terms of its historical and
basis of sexual orientation or gender identity should cultural significance and according to the census
not be included in the consolidated Act.” The Greens figures, it would seem only logical that it, along
in Victoria argue in a similar fashion in their policy with the Bible, be included in the curriculum.
on “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” that Two Australian prime ministers from both major
its aim is to “Amend the Equal Opportunity Act political parties, Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard,
2010 to remove exemptions for religious organisa- have publicly argued for the Bible’s inclusion in
tions to discriminate on the grounds of sexual ori- the school curriculum. As well as having such a
entation or gender identity”.
profound religious significance, the Bible also has
The policy taken to the last Victorian state elec- an enduring and significant impact on literature,
tion by the now Labor government mirrors the AEU and parables like the Good Samaritan, David and
and the Greens policies: “A Labor Government Goliath, and the Lost Sheep convey in a succinct
will amend the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and and powerful way important moral and spiritual
limit the ‘bona fide occupational requirement’ lessons. Contemporary expressions such as “turn
which makes it easier for employers to discriminate the other cheek”, “an eye for an eye” and “to cast
against people based on their sexuality.”
pearls before swine” are biblical in origin and are
The AEU also argues that the school cur- an essential element of what the US academic E.D.
riculum should be secular in nature and that it is Hirsch describes as cultural literacy.
Although substantial government funding
to private schools has become entrenched in
Australia in recent decades, we believe there
is no pre-existing, pre-determined entitlement
to public funding; i.e. there is no a priori
justification for public funding to private
schools.
A
Quadrant April 2015
45
The Place of Religion in a Secular Curriculum
Religion in the national curriculum
A
ll Australian states and territories are in the
process of implementing a national curriculum across foundation to Year 10 in eight learning
areas, including history, English, and civics and
citizenship. An analysis of how religion, especially
Christianity, is dealt with in the national curriculum
provides further evidence of increasing secularism.
An early draft of the civics and citizenship curriculum (dated October 2012) describes Australia as
a “multicultural, secular society with a multi-faith
population”. In fact Australia is predominantly a
Christian nation. The nation’s political and legal
institutions and much of its history and culture
can only be fully understood in the context of
Christianity. It is not by accident that parliaments
around Australia begin with the Lord’s Prayer and
the preamble to the Constitution includes the words
“humbly relying on the blessings of almighty God”.
Significant events like Christmas and Easter, notwithstanding an increasingly overtly secular and
commercial focus, are undeniably Christian in origin and can only be fully understood and valued in
terms of their biblical origins.
In defining what it means to be an Australian
citizen, the curriculum document goes on to say:
Individuals may identify with multiple
“citizenships” at any one point in time and
over a period of time. Citizenship means
different things to people at different times and
depending on personal perspectives, their social
situation and where they live. This is reflected
in multiple definitions of citizenship that reflect
personal, social, spatial and temporal dimensions
of citizenship.
Under such a subjective, relativistic definition it
appears impossible to state with any certainty what
it means to be an Australian. It also runs counter
to the pledge taken during the nation’s citizenship
ceremony: “From this time forward, under God, I
pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose
democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and
obey” (version two of the pledge removes reference
to God).
A commitment to democratic beliefs and rights
and liberties such as freedom of religion, freedom
of expression, a Westminster form of government,
being innocent until proven guilty, habeas corpus,
the separation of powers, property rights and a
commitment to the common good (to name a few)
suggest a particular definition of citizenship—one
not open to multiple definitions based on personal
46
perspectives and different “spatial and temporal
dimensions”.
It also needs to be realised that no matter how
much those Australians fighting for Islamic State in
Iraq or on our own soil might believe in the concept
of multiple definitions of citizenship, by engaging in
terrorism they have forfeited, morally if not legally,
their right to being Australian.
The October 2012 version of the civics curriculum does refer to religion when it states that
students should have some knowledge of the contribution made by major religions and belief systems
“to civic life and to the development of Australian
civic identity”. Unfortunately, the May 2013 version
of the curriculum removes any reference to religion’s
contribution to civic life and civic identity and,
once again, there is no reference to Christianity on
the basis that Australia is a secular nation “with a
dynamic, multicultural and multi-faith society”.
Based on the Consultation Report, dated
November 2012, it appears that the reason for the
above change was that those consulted about the
October 2012 version felt that religion was overemphasised and, as a result, there had to be “more
reference to non-religious views” on the basis that
“Australia is a secular society”.
The May 2013 civics curriculum mandates that
all Australian students learn about “cultural or religious groups to which Australians of Asian heritage belong” and “the unique identities of Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander peoples”. According to
the writers of the national curriculum, while it is
permissible to make students learn about Asian
and indigenous culture and religious customs and
beliefs the same cannot be said for Christianity and
Australia’s Judeo-Christian heritage and spirituality.
The way history is dealt with in the national curriculum also undervalues the central importance of
religion, especially Christianity, in the nation’s history and the development of Western civilisation.
One example relates to an early draft where those
responsible replaced BC and AD with neutral terms
like BP (Before Present) and CE (Common Era).
More egregious examples of how the Australian
curriculum undervalues Christianity is the 2010
history syllabus where Christian is mentioned only
once—but only in the context of studying other religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Judaism
and Islam. The 2011 history draft also illustrates an
unwillingness to acknowledge the significance of
Christianity to Australian culture when, under the
heading of celebrations, Christmas is merely listed
alongside Chinese New Year, Diwali, Hanukkah,
the Moon Festival and Ramadan.
The final edition of the history curriculum, dated
February 2014, continues to undermine the impact
Quadrant April 2015
The Place of Religion in a Secular Curriculum
of Christianity on Western civilisation. On referring to the trans-Atlantic slave trade no mention
is made of the fact that many of those responsible
for abolishing slavery under British law were committed Christians. When detailing the impact of
British and European settlement on Australia’s
indigenous population, while reference is made to
lack of citizenship, the Stolen Generations and the
struggle for land rights, no mention is made of the
positive impact of early Christian missions in areas
like education and health.
Ratzinger and Pera, in Without Roots, bemoan
the impact of cultural relativism and the unwillingness of many in the academy to defend Western
civilisation and the significance of Christianity.
Marcello Pera writes:
Various names have been given to this school
today: post-enlightenment thinking; postmodernism, “weak thought”, deconstruction.
The labels have changed, but the target is always
the same: to proclaim that there are no grounds
for our values and no solid proof or argument
establishing that any one thing is better or more
valid than another.
In relation to the national curriculum, based on
the continual references in the curriculum to celebrating “choice and diversity” (the new code for
multiculturalism) and the emphasis on teaching
intercultural understanding, where the implication
is that all cultures are of equal worth, the underlying
philosophy is one of cultural relativism.
Ironically, the only exceptions to this unwillingness to discriminate and to teach students that some
beliefs and practices are right or wrong relate to the
three cross-curricula priorities: studying the environment, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders,
and Asia. These priorities are always dealt with in
a constructive and positive light and students are
rarely, if ever, asked to be critical.
At the start of 2014 the Commonwealth government commissioned a review of the Australian
national curriculum, and a number of submissions by various faith-based organisations provide
further evidence that the curriculum fails to deal
adequately with religion, Christianity in particular.
The Australian Association of Christian Schools,
for example, argues that the history curriculum
privileges a “Secular Humanism” worldview to the
exclusion of the significant role played by JudeoChristianity in “shaping many Australian political,
legal and social institutions”.
Such has been the public debate surrounding
the place of religion, including but not restricted
to Christianity, in the national curriculum that
the body responsible, the Australian Curriculum,
Assessment and Reporting Authority, appears to
be reconsidering the issue. In a draft paper to the
review of the National Curriculum titled “Learning
about Religions, Spiritualities and Ethical Beliefs
in the Australian Curriculum”, ACARA reaffirms
what it says is its support for including religion in
the curriculum. The draft paper states:
The Australian Curriculum provides a platform
for teaching about religions, spiritualities and
ethical beliefs in a balanced, informed and
impartial manner where both commonalities
and differences are recognised and mutual
respect is cultivated.
The most recent edition of the civics and citizenship curriculum, dated February 18, 2014, unlike
previous versions, refers to Judeo-Christianity a
number of times.
Christianity and Islam in the textbooks
W
hile official curriculum documents influence
what happens in the classroom, textbooks
also have a significant impact. Textbooks used in
Australian schools like the Jacaranda SOSE Alive 2
(2004) and Oxford University Press big ideas australian curriculum history 8 (2012) display a jaundiced and
superficial view of religion, especially Christianity.
The Jacaranda book, after describing those who
attacked the World Trade Center as terrorists,
asks students, “Might it also be fair to say that the
Crusaders who attacked the Muslim inhabitants
of Jerusalem were also terrorists?” Equating 9/11
Islamic terrorists with the early Crusaders displays
a misguided and simplistic understanding of the
historical circumstances surrounding the Church’s
desire to reclaim Jerusalem and the Holy Lands.
When describing the role of the Church in
medieval times, instead of acknowledging its beneficial impact, the textbook presents a bleak and
negative picture. The Catholic Church, supposedly,
enforced its teachings by making people “terrified
of going to hell”, a situation where “Old people who
lived alone, especially women, and people who disagreed with the Church were at great risk”. One of
the role-plays students are asked to perform involves
imagining “that as a simple, God-fearing peasant,
you have been told you were excommunicated” and,
in relation to how the Church treated women, students are told “mostly they did what the Church told
them to do—to be obedient wives, good mothers,
and caretakers of the home”. Not only is such an
interpretation of the Church’s impact on women,
again, simplistic, it also judges social relations of the
Quadrant April 2015
47
The Place of Religion in a Secular Curriculum
far distant past according to contemporary ideas and disadvantaged” is because of “former colonial
beliefs.
powers”. Ignored is the counter-argument that the
The Oxford textbook (2012) represents an fundamentalist aspects of the Muslim religion,
improvement on the Jacaranda textbook in that it especially sharia law, run counter to economic and
acknowledges the beneficial impact of the Church scientific advancement, and the theocratic nature of
on European civilisation. It says that in medieval Islam also restricts innovation and change.
Europe the “church was a positive influence on sociThe third textbook also presents the growth of
eties across Europe—providing education, caring Islam in a neutral way that ignores the violence,
for the sick and supporting the community”.
destruction and loss of freedom experienced by those
The welcome observation that “Christian beliefs living in the conquered lands. The impact of expanand values had many positive effects on daily life, sion is described as follows: “Many of the peoples
architecture, the arts and the justice system” is of the newly conquered regions converted to Islam.
undermined by the qualification that Christian Those who did not were allowed to live peacefully
values and beliefs “also provided motivations for and practise their faith as long as they abided by the
wars, and justifications for some people’s preju- law of the land and paid the jizya, a tax imposed
dices and fears”. The textbook also asserts that the on non-Muslims.” Once again, there is no reference
medieval Church worked against
to the suffering, financial hardship
“new inventions, exploration and
and often execution faced by those
scientific discoveries”. Those familwho
wished to remain true to their
he recent history religion.
iar with James Hannam’s book The
of school education
Genesis of Science: How the Christian
Unlike secular critics who
Middle Ages Launched the Scientific
often
attack non-denominational
in Britain and
Revolution will appreciate how misChristian schools for teaching
Australia, especially creationism and conservative views
leading the Oxford textbook is.
The same kind of criticism and
about reproduction and sexualin relation to the
close scrutiny are often not applied
ity, the authors of Learning from
curriculum, is one of One
to other religions such as Islam.
Another counsel tolerance and
The description of Islam is impar- increasing government respect for Islamic beliefs about
tial and ignores the often violent
such matters.
intervention
and destructive nature of jihad.
In school textbooks, any analyand control.
The authors write: “caliphs, who
sis of religion should be fair and
succeeded Muhammad, continued
impartial. In arguing for a more
to spread the Prophet’s teachings
inclusive and comprehensive treatthroughout a growing Islamic empire”. The state- ment of religion, especially Christianity, it is also
ment that “The Ottoman Empire and Islamic faith important to distinguish between proselytising and
spread from Asia into Africa and Europe, challeng- educating students about religion and belief systems
ing the Christian belief system of medieval Europe” in a broader sense.
ignores practices such as dhimma where non-believers were denied the right to own property, were
Conclusion
unfairly taxed and often lived in fear of violence and
s Anthony O’Hear argued in Quadrant, it is
expulsion from their communities and homes.
important that institutions like education
A third textbook published in 2010 and circulated to Australian schools titled Learning from One retain a degree of independence and freedom from
Another: Bringing Muslim Perspectives into Australian state control on the basis that “Many areas of public
Schools continues to offer a misleading and one-sided life should be seen as independent of politics, even
view of Islam. The textbook, on asking students to producing a counter-balance to the political through
explain what they associate with the word jihad and the autonomous institutions spawned in and by
after noting “there are no wrong answers”, explains those areas”.
Unfortunately, the recent history of school eduthat it can refer to “spiritual struggle” as well as
cation in Britain and Australia, especially in relation
“armed fighting, often in self-defence”.
An extract taken from The Oxford Encyclopedia of to the curriculum, is one of increasing government
the Islamic World, vol 2 is cited that claims the Crusades intervention and control. As a result, instead of suband the “modern war on terror” are motivated by jects like history, civics, geography and literature
“greed and scorn for Islam”. The book also repeats being balanced and impartial they have become
the argument that the reason many Muslim politicised and are increasingly treated as instrunations are “socio-economically and educationally ments for implementing government policy in areas
T
A
48
Quadrant April 2015
The Place of Religion in a Secular Curriculum
like multiculturalism and sustainability.
At the same time, given the secularisation of
Western society and the impact of postmodern
theory on the academy, the significance and importance of Christianity, both historically and in terms
of its continuing value and importance, are being
undermined and trivialised.
One solution is to defend the financial viability and curriculum autonomy of religious schools
that enrol so many students across the nation and,
unlike government schools, that have a uniquely
faith-based mission. A second solution is to ensure
that any state-mandated curriculum deals in a comprehensive, balanced and objective way with what
the Melbourne Declaration (the guiding document
used by education ministers when deciding policy)
describes as “the spiritual, moral and aesthetic
dimensions of life”.
Dr Kevin Donnelly, a Senior Research Fellow at
the Australian Catholic University and Director of
Education Standards Institute, co-authored last year’s
review of the Australian National Curriculum. He can
be contacted at [email protected]
What a Time!
Carbon paper blue, black, red and green
And stamps, Olympians, trains and Queens
All here well before me.
I survived
Carbon paper, but stamps’ll limp along
Long after I am gone.
I’m a soul brother of
White Out. I remember when that came in.
Now, it’s getting hard to get, and I’ve
got this filial feeling we’re going out together.
My grandfather saw cars come in.
And I saw computers
The biggest stride we’ve ever strode.
What a time in history!
I want to be buried in a 3D printed coffin.
C. Chaplin: Retirement Counsellor
“In the end, life is a gag”
Said the indelible
Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin.
He amused me when I first heard him.
Said the indelible
Knight of the Realm at the top of his form
It amused me when I first heard it.
But it lost its charm when retirement winked.
All very fine at the top of one’s form.
While trying to prove that my life had mattered
It lost its charm as retirement winked.
Then I saw the blighter was right!
While hoping to prove that my life had mattered
I resisted that silly old Charles Spencer Chaplin.
But of course the bastard was right
“In the end, life is a gag”.
Quadrant April 2015
Saxby Pridmore
49
T imoshenko A sl a nides
A Preamble
for All of Us
O
ur Constitution says it all for all of us: it
documents the limits of legislation within
which our parliaments enact laws; it influences bureaucratic implementation of laws and
caters for the provision of justice on issues arising from compliance with laws. Thus, and despite
hugely differing capabilities and variously motivated aspirations in our lives of capriciously random opportunities, we still expect to be regarded
as equal before the law.
So when politicians speculate about privileging
a group of Australians above the rest of us, even
to the extent of setting aside a specific number
of seats in federal parliament for them, it is
understandable that people take umbrage and
object: any referendum proposal which attempts
to entrench in our Constitution the claims of some
Australians as being innately superior, or inherently
more entitled, will almost certainly be rejected by
a majority of Australian voters in a majority of
Australian states.
This is not to say that sections of the Constitution
which could disadvantage Aborigines (and others)
should not be changed; they probably should. I’m
thinking of Section 25 (which allows disqualification from voting by persons of any race) and
Section 51, subsection xxvi (which allows parliament to make special laws deemed necessary for
people of any race); there may well be other sections
that demand attention.
The technicalities of wording such changes
must, necessarily, be left to lawyers: that’s their
province. The preamble, however, has a different
purpose: it serves to say who we are, why we expect
to feel free, what government can do to maintain
that freedom and how the nation’s affairs might
ideally be arranged. This inspirational and aspirational description of the role of the Constitution
in our daily lives should, ideally, be written by a
national poet: and that’s my province.
Whilst my draft preamble, below, does not
purport to be poetry, it is written with a poet’s
50
feel for the rhythms and nuances of Australian
English. Five of the six lines begin with verb forms
that encompass everything I’ve described above
in an easy-to-read and inclusive format that says
what every Australian would want to read, hope
to hear, or expect to feel from the introduction to
this otherwise boring, but fundamentally important constitutional document that defines Australia
for Australians. I have also quite deliberately
left out any reference to the god or gods, saints,
prophets and other revered figures in the variety
of religions practised by Australians in public and
private worship. Indeed, as Section 116 prohibits the
Commonwealth from making laws establishing any
religion, imposing religious tests or observance, or
interfering with the free exercise of any religion,
it would seem both inconsistent and pointless to
include in the preamble an invocation to a specific
deity to look with favour upon the operation of the
Constitution itself.
The wording of this preamble also allows
for the substitution of the word Republic for
Commonwealth, should the nation, by referendum,
eventually require it.
Note, also, the reference to the Dreamtime
with a capital “D”: this neatly genuflects to prior
Aboriginal occupation of Australia without privileging them or any other group of Australians
over anyone else. On the question of definition,
an Australian in this reading is anyone born in,
or made welcome to, Australia. There are other,
more playful definitions: asked, on occasion, what I
thought constituted an Australian, my answer, initially facetious, but these days less so, is always the
same: “An Australian is anyone with a line of mine
in memory.” Well, I am a national poet!
An earlier version of this preamble was first published in my book Occasions for Words (Wakefield
Press, 2006). Now, however, I’m ceding copyright
in this preamble to the Commonwealth of Australia
if (after publication in Quadrant) the preamble is
needed, to be adopted or adapted, in whole or in
Quadrant April 2015
A Preamble for All of Us
part, in any new preamble to our Constitution—I
don’t mind being one of Shelley’s “unacknowledged
legislators of the world”. The version given below
contains 145 words in a title and one sentence.
Preamble to the Constitution
of the Commonwealth of Australia
RECOGNISING the humanity of peoples who
have lived here from the Dreamtime and of peoples
who, wherever born and whenever made welcome,
have settled in Australia;
KNOWING that we belong to or are descendants of such peoples;
CONVINCED that political, religious and
commercial freedoms will maximise the potential
and nourish the achievements of all Australians, and
PRIZING the sciences which develop such
achievements, the built environments which exhibit
them, the natural environments which locate them
and the arts which celebrate them,
THEREFORE and AS SOVEREIGN
AUSTRALIANS we
ADOPT THIS CONSTITUTION of the
COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA for
democratically elected representatives to enact laws
to protect our freedoms, applaud our efforts and
reward our enterprise, whether of individuals acting
alone or communities acting together, and which we
hope our descendants will value, preserve and look
to for inspiration.
Timoshenko Aslanides is a full-time, professional
(and national) poet. His fourteenth book of poetry,
Letterature: Verse Letters from Australian Women,
was published by Hybrid Publishers in June 2014.
A Survivor
I love to wander in the Museum
of Australian Food, to marvel
at endangered species or learn
of dishes now departed if not extinct.
What happened to carpet-bag steak,*
oyster soup, chokoes with white sauce,
salad dressing involving condensed milk,
or Spanish cream and puftaloons?†
Reassuring then to find a rare survivor,
the Australian spaghetti sandwich.
The pasta, soft little worms snugly nestled
in tomato sauce, still comes in small tins
that impart a faint metallic flavour.
This unique interpretation of spaghetti,
spread between slices of white bread,
finds its way to many a packed lunch.
What is more, it’s still esteemed along
with a modest variation; heated and served
on buttered toast it can provide some consolation
for a humble, often lonely, evening meal.
Barbara Fisher
*A steak stuffed with oysters.
†Scones deep-fried in dripping, often split and spread with golden syrup.
Quadrant April 2015
51
P eter H. E dwa r ds
Where Are We Going?
New Technology and the Future of Thought
A
news item in September 2013 reported that
a family was going to live without inventions made since 1986. They were going to
try to manage without such items as mobile phones,
the internet and e-mails, DVD players, CDs, MP3
players, digital cameras, cable television, modern
video games and, of course, internet-based social
media.
When we consider how all-pervading these
things are, we have to realise that children brought
up with them live in a completely different world
from that of earlier generations. The long-term
effects these things will have on their bodies and
minds are unknown.
Physical effects are now being noticed. Doctors
are warning of hearing loss, repetitive strain injuries, back problems, myopia, obesity, and increasing incidence of diabetes from lack of daily physical
exercise. The hormones that regulate sleep patterns
and wellbeing are disrupted by long hours of illumination from computer or television screens, and
skills of co-ordination, such as the ability to catch a
ball, estimate speeds and distances, use peripheral
vision, hold a pen, and write properly, are being
lost.
What are the effects on the mind? There is the
obvious one of addiction—an inability to put these
things aside, and an obsessive need to be in touch
with others electronically while lacking ordinary
personal social skills, such as communicating fluently, politely and clearly, having empathy, and
being willing to co-operate in the physical world
on cultural and charitable projects of social benefit. These types of personal interaction take place
in neighbourhoods, sports clubs, charities, church
groups, volunteer organisations, local agricultural
shows and special interest groups. Such socially
valuable activities are in many cases being limited
by a shortage of younger members. Youngsters
prefer to be hunched over a screen playing with
the misnamed “social” media such as Facebook, or
interactive games.
52
While these amusements can bring emancipation from isolation for some, for others they have
an unhealthy dominance over their lives, and make
it dangerously easy to link up with people or organisations that are merely using them for their own
purposes. There can be witty exchanges and useful
sharing of photos and experiences, but little of the
civilised discussion that happens when real people
meet to talk, because these are technologies of the
instantaneous and the superficial.
Like most human inventions, social media
could be a force for good, giving those without
power a voice. Like most human inventions, they
have been exploited for evil, such as cyber-bullying,
scams, pornography and graft. The big difference
from most other inventions is that they cannot be
regulated effectively: nobody accepts responsibility.
Who sets the standards for acceptable speech and
behaviour? Nobody, because parents alone cannot
hope to counteract the forces at work; teachers and
police get no support from incompetent and pusillanimous bureaucracies trying to be “progressive”.
The debased nature of conversation is now set by
the universal spread of low standards through the
internet and television. The Melbourne psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg has commented on the
damaging effect on children of access to garbage
on smartphones, “by the pornified culture they
are growing up in”. He sees among modern parents a “tendency not to use moral language or set
boundaries”. The result is a generation unable to see
the link between actions and consequences. In the
words of another commentator, Miranda Devine,
“Never have there been so many toxic forces conspiring against your efforts to raise happy, responsible citizens.”
The people who used to uphold civilised standards, such as magistrates and law-makers, are in
many cases now so lacking in integrity that they
allow vile abuse of police because of “changing
social standards”. In other words, they are part of
the problem.
Quadrant April 2015
Where Are We Going?
The problem is not just one of deteriorating perSome people, in letters to editors, congratulate
sonal standards of speech and behaviour, but of the themselves as Australians for the peaceable transfer
effects they have on society as a whole. Decency, of power in elections, compared to the violence in
meaning consideration for others, has social divi- many other countries. They would be much more
dends. In its absence the following trends can be concerned about our political leaders’ safety if they
observed:
read the hatred expressed towards political oppo• An increase in bullying, admitted by some nents in social media. Why do people see no reapsychiatrists to be due to sociopathic tendencies in son for self-control and moderation? In many cases
individuals who are brought up as self-centred chil- because they are anonymous. However, although it
dren without social skills.
is an unintended result, perusal of these postings by
• An increase in violence, such as the assaults outsiders such as potential employers and grandparnow commonplace, and the frequent shootings, ents does have some value for their decision-making
stabbings and road rage.
on careers and inheritances.
• An increase in sexually transmitted diseases (in
The background to these phenomena is the pathspite of, or because of, “sex education” in schools).
ological individualism brought about by increased
• A decline in basic numerdissociation from face-to-face
acy, literacy and science results in
human contact, allied to cybermob
schools in spite of increases in edupsychology,
which changes people
he addicted cannot
cation funding.
into trolls. The media that contribcope with reasoning, ute to this have also caused reduced
• A movement, among those
which takes time.
who can afford it, away from the
attention span, so that the addicted
public domain to gated communi- Substituting for reason cannot cope with reasoning, which
ties and private schools.
takes time. Substituting for reason
are shouted slogans, are shouted slogans, sensationalThe influence of electro-media
addiction on these trends may only
ism, celebrity worship, crudity, and
sensationalism,
be a contributing factor. It may even
antagonism in news reporting and
celebrity worship,
serve a useful purpose in occupying
interviews.
people who would otherwise engage
crudity, and
he addictive nature of mass
in anti-social behaviour such as
antagonism in
entertainment became clear
vandalism. Other addictions such
news reporting
with the invention of cinema, and
as alcohol and drugs could be a
was confirmed with the spread of
more significant factor, as may be a
and interviews.
television in the middle of the last
culture which confuses democracy
century. The illusion of control over
with mediocrity. However, I suspect
that these media do promote dysfunction in society. the addiction became possible with the personal
For example, teachers in past times, confronted with computer, but the concomitant lack of restraints on
a child who was disruptive and used foul language content gave equal potential for emancipation or
as a matter of course, not knowing it was abnormal degradation.
In the present transitional phase, when some
outside their feral family, would bring that child
tactfully but firmly into the fold of civilisation. But people mistake electronic communication for real
now that the ferals have iPhones they can dominate human contact, there is a risk that others (usually
a parallel universe unmediated by standard-setters, the elderly) will become isolated. Human contact
and become playground or cyberspace heroes. Their takes effort to maintain, as do most valuable things
standards permeate the classroom, and useful learn- in life. Real friendships are one-to-one, each relaing cannot take place because of their disruptive tionship unique in its interactive mode, intensity,
interpretation of body language, facial expressions,
behaviour.
The rush to private schools is not in search of and business or social background. It is truly perbetter teachers, but to a system that can still insist sonal, whereas “friending” is a travesty of it, an
on standards of behaviour which will lead to better automated imitation.
Mobile phones can isolate their users from
educational and social outcomes. However, school
authorities sometimes issue iPads to their students reality to the extent that they become a danger to
under the delusion that they are educational tools. themselves and others as they wander the footpaths
For fourteen-year-olds they an opportunity to play and roads, blundering into real people and cars or
games and “socialise”. They disable the various locks falling off piers. The use of mobile phones while
and filters and thenceforth their internet connection driving has been shown to make a serious crash
four times more likely, with drivers focusing on the
has little to do with schoolwork.
T
T
Quadrant April 2015
53
Where Are We Going?
conversation, not the road.
The phone addiction is often due to a common
phenomenon known as “fomo”, fear of missing out.
Stephen Kirchner, in the London Daily Telegraph,
wrote, “Fomo sapiens cannot leave its phones, tablets or laptops alone, no matter how inappropriate
the occasion.” He was referring to the notorious
Obama–Thorning-Schmidt–Cameron “selfie” at
Nelson Mandela’s funeral. The disjunction between
this behaviour and the event being attended shows
that these technologies are “improved means to
unimproved ends” at the very least, but more concerning is the possibility that they are causing
infantilism.
Considered opinion is now regarded as boring,
with communication reduced to superficial codes:
omg, lol, imho, “like”, emoticons, and even abbreviated obscenities, such as wtf, which are analogous
to the proto-lingual calls of the jungle. As New
Scientist described it:
As people lose aspects of higher cognition …
their ability to issue volleys of profanities often
remains intact. Curses hunker down in areas
such as the amygdala and basal ganglia … These
areas emerged at an earlier point in evolution.
On Facebook, a contributor actually apologised
in advance that his posts (which were merely discussing grammatical features of sentences) were to
be based on a book of hymns. So religious texts
might offend, whereas being insulted by obscenities
is no impediment to publication.
R
obert Bolton, in his excellent book People Skills
(1986), discusses three categories of behaviour
in relation to other people: submissive, assertive and
aggressive. The second type is the behaviour that
defends one’s “personal space” while respecting the
rights and feelings of others. In personal relationships this requires tact and recognition that the
other person may not realise that they are invading
your “territory”, which is not just the physical space
around you but also the right to your own values and
perceptions.
Bolton writes, “Maintaining an appropriate emotional and values distance from other people’s social
space is often difficult.” It is particularly difficult on
Facebook because the concept of “friends” is taken
to bizarre lengths, and whatever is posted, copied or
“liked” soon becomes common property.
It would be futile to ask anyone to moderate
their tone on your behalf, and the pressure is to
be submissive; to “like” something without due
consideration of its implications, in order to seem
sociable. What the compliant person does not realise
54
is that by “liking” a post containing obscenities, the
“liker” is legitimising feral attitudes and tarring
themselves with the same brush.
The opposite behaviour, aggressiveness, is also
typical of “social” media, where rants and denigration
of public figures are published. Facebook and
similar sites therefore encourage the two extremes
of Bolton’s behaviour classification and lower the
general standards of civility and respect for others.
If one were to try on the web the negotiating
techniques of Bolton’s “assertive behaviour” one
would be misunderstood or ridiculed: “Why are you
here then?” would be the usual reaction.
One solution, apart from blocking messages or
opting out of Facebook altogether, is to “unfriend”
the source of undesired communications, usually
“ jokes” passed on, or political or religious
proselytising; but note the wording—“unfriend”—
which makes assertive action seem like aggression
or hostility, strongly implying that you don’t want to
be a real-world friend either. If you don’t want to risk
receiving unwanted messages for “personal space”
reasons, whether it be politics, language, morals or
just tedium, then you risk being unfriendly.
In real life you can negotiate the terms of
conversation with friends. These terms are usually
mutually understood and respected, but not on
Facebook. This reduction of human relationships
to a mouse click can even damage relationships
and cause resentments that would not exist if
people did not use such media as their main mode
of interaction. Mature people are not disposed to
do so, but the effects on those reared on them are
uncertain, possibly harmful, and certainly harmful
to those ostracised or ridiculed in public. Similar
objections apply to Twitter, where again human
communication is trivialised and devalued. We even
have national leaders, who in view of their social
position should manifest some gravitas, tweeting
not only their spontaneous thought bubbles but also
matters of international diplomatic concern, which
could have serious consequences.
I
ndividuals who think for themselves, as they are
expected to do in a democracy, become a rarity
when the group-think of social media prevails. From
the factiousness of GetUp! campaigns to the sick
fixations of terrorism, attitudes are facilitated which
weaken social cohesion and destabilise good government. The advance of civilisation is predicated on
elevation of purpose and civility of discourse, but we
are seeing a race to the bottom in human expression
and behaviour.
Joe Hildebrand, in a recent Sydney Daily
Telegraph article titled “Political patience now a lost
virtue”, wrote:
Quadrant April 2015
Where Are We Going?
and its ramifications could not have been imagined.
The memorisation of poetry is now an almost extinct
brain function.
We are now at the beginning of an electronic
cultural shift that will lead to destinies unknown.
Until recently it was expected that the human brain
He notes that politicians can be abused on a should be exercised in mental arithmetic, adding up
scale that would have been unimaginable even a bills, giving change, and so on. That is now almost
decade ago—then “the caravan of outrage moves a lost skill.
on” to some other object of hate.
Brain size has been diminishing since
The head of the Anti-Corruption Commission Palaeolithic times, perhaps ever since organised
in Thailand said recently, “Elections are not the societies relieved evolutionary selective pressure on
only part of the democratic system.
individual cognition. Now that the
You must have people of good faith
brain has outsourced its functions
and people of ethical and good
to technological crutches, it is being
he advance
conduct.” George Orwell wrote in
under-utilised, and with continued
of civilisation
1940, “The thing that frightens me
atrophy it is likely to struggle to
is predicated on
about the modern intelligentsia is
reason carefully, to synthesise ideas,
their inability to see that human
elevation of purpose discriminate, or remember details.
society must be based on human
Without its iPad, it won’t even have
and civility of
decency.”
any details to remember.
All these commentators have
A common speculation about
discourse, but we
noticed that a functioning polity
the future is, “What will happen
are seeing a race
is based on good manners in the
if machines take over the world?”
to the bottom in
broad sense, a proposition clearly
Perhaps it has happened already
explained in Lucinda Holdforth’s
devices that are now out
human expression with
book Why Manners Matter (2010).
of control, but with the illusion
and behaviour.
Freedom of speech is also affected,
of control being given to every
for when individuals cannot put
human being connected to them.
their case in a civilised manner
Furthermore, the use of the internet
governments feel obliged to make it illegal to and phones by governments and spy agencies to
offend someone. This ham-fisted censorship is both track individuals gives unprecedented power to
selective in its application and futile.
dictatorships and also increases the risk of instant
flare-ups of cyber-wars, mob incitement and even
he effect of new technology on the mind has physical conflicts. Is this Teilhard de Chardin’s
history. It is likely that the invention of writing noosphere? If so it is a worrying beast.
did not at first greatly impress pre-literate societies
that valued the memorising of sagas, family history Peter H. Edwards is a retired New South Wales science
and poetry. They may have thought of it as a crutch, teacher and farmer.
It is impossible not to notice the outbreak of
brutal skittishness in politics has correlated
almost exactly with the explosion in social
media. Never have we had an electorate so
empowered, so impatient and so impolite.
T
T
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Quadrant April 2015
55
The Rime Of The Ancient Gooney Bird
The land of water, and
of fearful hunger,
where no swimming
creature was to be hooked
or crooked.
The fish were here, the fish were there,
The fish were all about:
Our hunger growled, and churned and howled,
But fish we had caught nought!
A great sea-fowl, called the
Gooney Bird, comes through
the fog, lured by the sailors.
At length I saw a Gooney Bird, Fly o’er the foggy rip,
As though it were a Columbidae;
We lured it with a chip.
The Gooney Bird returneth
regularly for a daily snack.
A good South Wind rung up like rhyme;
The Gooney Bird did dance,
And every day, for potato cakes,
Came down as in a trance!
The Gooney Bird chokes on a
cast off rollie, mistaken for a
morsel.
One day it swallowed a fag-butt whole,
Lodged sideways in its throat,
The bird spun round delirious
And fell dead on the boat!
The hungry crew endeavour to
prepare the stubborn fowl for
tea.
We plucked all day and boiled all night,
Tight-lipped without a word.
“God save my auntie’s marinade!”
The fowl was tough as curd.
The sailors reluctantly
eat the foul fowl, using
available shipboard
condiments, and thus, are
saved.
Its thigh was stubborn as a boot,
The flavour quite absurd,
But with a side of chips and sauce,
We ate that GOONEY BIRD.
War and Peace Senryu
for Myron Lysenko
That bastard Pierre.
Pierre marries Natasha.
(Tolstoy drinks vodka.)
Joe Dolce
56
Quadrant April 2015
5
10
15
20
Masturbari
Egyptian God Atun created the universe by masturbating to ejaculation
the ebb and flow of the Nile attributed to the frequency of his orgasms
Pharaohs henceforth paid tribute ceremoniously spilling seed into the riverwater
ancient Greeks called female self-touching anaphlam up-fire
Sixteenth century onanism was commonly practiced
by nannies to put young male wards to sleep
Tissot in the Eighteenth argued semen an essential oil
when lost from the body reduced memory blurred vision caused gout
disturbance of appetite and weak mindedness his theories adopted by Voltaire
and Kant—who considered masturbari a violation of moral law—
contributed to its consideration over the next two centuries
as mental illness by medicine self-pollution sin and vice by religion
resulting in chastity belts straight jackets cauterization often surgical excision of genitals
Victorian schoolboys were advised to have pants
constructed so private parts could not be touched through pockets
schoolgirls arranged at special desks to discourage crossing legs
forbidden the riding of horses or bicycles to prevent sensations
physicians supplied Strengthening Tinctures and Prolific Powders
bland meatless diets were promoted by Dr John Kellogg
inventor of corn flakes
the Reverend Sylvester Graham inventor of the Cracker
turn-of-the-century seamstresses discovered
sitting near the edge of the treadle seat delivered rewards
the Scout Association who in 1914 advised boys to run away from temptations
recanted in 1930 considering it a natural act and abstinence an error
in recent times the UK National Health Service slogan:
An Orgasm a Day Keeps the Doctor Away encouraged teens to practice once daily
to stem youth pregnancy the Spanish region of Extremadura
distributed leaflets: Pleasure is in Your Hands
current theory shows regular activity lowers probability of prostate cancer
reduces coronary heart disease in males over fifty improves sperm motility and health
if practiced by women before coitus increases fertility relieves depression
leads to higher self-esteem increased relaxation and better sleep
sperm banks in the US are known as masturbatoriums.
Quadrant April 2015
Joe Dolce
57
G eoffr e y L ehm a n n
The Princess Who
Became a Queen
E
arly in February I launched Jennifer
Compton’s book of poetry Now You Shall
Know, published by Five Islands Press. The
launch took place in Kris Hemensley’s Collected
Works bookshop in Melbourne, which is perhaps
the only large specialist poetry bookshop in the
Anglophone world. Collected Works is in Swanston
Street on the first floor of the Nicholas Building,
which was completed in 1926 for the Nicholas family of Aspro fame.
With its terra cotta facade, which has a deep
green faience glaze, the nine-storey palazzo-style
Nicholas Building generously hosts many artists’
studios as well as a variety of shops. Until recently
it had lift drivers who decorated their lifts idiosyncratically with pictures of their choice, many of cats
and dogs.
Here is my launch speech with minor edits.
***
J
ennifer Compton is one of the best poets writing
in Australia, and the book of poems which I have
the privilege to launch is equal to her best. If anything, as she goes into her sixties—she was born in
1949—the power of her poetry is accelerating.
I became aware of Jennifer’s poetry only about
six or so years ago. With more than sixty books of
poetry being published in Australia every year, it is
now difficult for poets to make themselves heard.
When in 2008 Robert Gray and I began reading
and collecting poems for our third and, I’m sure,
last anthology of poetry, Australian Poetry since 1788,
we were not particularly aware of Jennifer’s work.
Robert, I think, may have met her. Although she is
now an Australian citizen, her recognition here has
been affected by her being New Zealand born and
Now You Shall Know
by Jennifer Compton
Five Islands Press, 2015, 86 pages, $24.95
58
bred, and some of her poetry is still published there
as well as in Australia.
Robert and I were both constrained by the fact
that we had to earn a living while preparing our
first two anthologies—the first was published in
1983 and the second in 1991. Our anthologising had
to be a genteel, part-time pursuit. We were then
perhaps more influenced by prevailing and accepted
opinion for this reason. One of the consequences
was that we underestimated women poets—for
example we gave Lesbia Harford the traditional
amount of space she had received in other anthologies on the basis that she was an attractive, but not
major Australian lyric poet. We were wrong, of
course.
When Robert initiated the idea of our third
anthology, I had retired and we decided to include
the full range of Australian poetry, unlike the more
limited spans of our first two anthologies. Rather
than work together in public libraries, as we had
in the past, I undertook to buy as many books of
Australian poetry as possible—many of them from
this bookshop, Collected Works—and to print up
large selections, where available from the internet,
of poets we might wish to include.
In this way we were able to sit together in a
room a couple of times a week over a couple of years
and read and reread this material. We would often
spend a day on a particular poet, going through
his or her poems, arguing about this line or that
image, what’s he or she trying to say in this poem.
Of course, a good poem does not need to have a
coherent meaning at all. But we were determined
to include poets on the basis of their poems, not
their reputation—does the poem give the reader a
frisson, does it excite in some way?
This approach meant we often spent more time
on poets who were not included than on those
who made it into the anthology. The decision to
exclude a poet who is generally well regarded, or
who, although obscure, has written good poems,
is a painful one. It is also a wasteful process. There
Quadrant April 2015
The Princess Who Became a Queen
is a lot of redundancy. I wrote a dozen or so criti- wanted more. Jennifer’s language is often so plain,
cal biographies about poets who did not get into almost abrupt in fact, that it is easy to overlook
the final selection—for example Ray Mathew and some of her poems and not realise how good they
Kenneth Mackenzie. Their poetry will survive are. Take, for example, “The Electric Fan” from her
independently of our anthology. More difficult still long Roman sequence:
is the decision to exclude new, younger poets whose
The obedient fan
work is good and who are yet to receive recognition.
turns his blind face
The onus in this case is on the anthologist to be
to me—with interest.
generous. But with sixty or so poetry books appearThe obedient fan
ing every year, not every promising younger poet
turns his blind face
can be included. One has to make a bet, and this
to me—with interest.
may not always be the right one.
One of the interesting discoveries we made was
When I suggested to Robert we include this in
that in recent decades there are more good female
than male poets. Why this should be so is unclear. our anthology, I was worried he would dismiss it
Perhaps males have decided to express themselves as too trivial. Of course, he didn’t. Interestingly it
through media other than poetry. The tendency for was only while typing out the poem for this speech
that I realised why it is so compelfemale poets to excel their male
ling. The second “his” I mistyped as
counterparts was such that when
“with”.
The fan is male and she is
making an initial cut—deciding
t is one of those rare
writing about male and female relawho we would look at in detail—I
found I had to correct a bias in my things that are difficult tionships, how men involuntarily
stare at women.
mind against new, younger male
to carry off with
This poem illustrates Jennifer’s
poets. There is of course a differsuccess: an intense
ability to find poetry in everyday,
ence between male and female
love poem from one ordinary things. Moonlight on
poets. Female poets tend to be more
lakes and birds at sunset are standemotionally explicit, they write to
mature spouse to
ard props for poets. Jennifer is able
communicate; male poets are more
another, where the to find poetry in unpoetical objects,
interested in language as a form
of display. These differences are
marriage has lasted such as an electric fan. The fan
becomes almost a living thing that
porous; there are many exceptions.
several decades.
wants to communicate with her.
ennifer’s poetry fits neatly into
The fan (like a man) is a pitiable
this gender stereotype, while her
object, it is obedient and has a blind
poems are not at all stereotyped. The first poem of face. She has a unique empathy.
hers I encountered was her amazing “The Woman
An example of this is her marvellously plain
of Rome”. It begins with Jennifer recalling herself poem “Octopus Speaking”:
as a thirteen-year-old girl lying in bed and becomIn the underwater tunnel of the civic aquarium
ing sexually aroused as she reads La Romana by
the octopus leaned his wretched head
Alberto Moravia. It is a translation, but her thirteen-year-old self is not aware of this. While she is
against the glass of his turbid pool
reading, “But panting towards the source”—what a
sucking on the breathing tube, like
wonderful euphemism that is—her father arrives,
“Like a prince”. He is a visitor, because she has
a severed vein
decided to live away from home—and he offers her
so he could live.
a packet of scorched almonds.
I
J
I accept them—like a princess—
like one who will one day be a queen
turn back towards the appalling book.
Scorched almonds are marvellous but
La Romana has my complete attention.
He asked for his ocean. He asked me,
the daughter of the powerful race.
I was standing alone like a child stands
with her entry ticket in her hand.
This poem is pitch-perfect. The language is
naked and plain and the timing is immaculate. I
was completely hooked when I came across it and
Imagine how differently Rilke, Ted Hughes, or
our own John Kinsella—all of them fine poets—
would have written this poem. They may have been
Quadrant April 2015
59
The Princess Who Became a Queen
able to get the same sense of empathy, but there
would have been a display of language that would
have been more elaborated. Jennifer’s words are brutally plain. She is close to giving us the Ding an
sich—the thing in itself.
She does not eschew elaboration entirely. The
poem “Now You Shall Know” at the start of this
book, which is the book’s title poem, is a virtuoso
piece. It is a striking and beautifully constructed
elegy for her mother of forty-two long lines—usually
about fourteen syllables per line. The poem links an
aria from Cavalleria Rusticana, “Voi la sapete” sung
by Maria Callas, with the singing sound of the aircraft as Jennifer is flying home to her dying mother,
on whose death she herself will now know, in the
words of the aria. It is about a child returning to an
old woman, but the child is herself “an old woman
also”. The poem is able to sustain grief and sensory
overload and the urge to get to the end. I am troubled by only one phrase: this is “snowball’s chance
of that”. John Ashbery sometimes uses cliché to jar
the reader, but it does not quite work here (for me).
The next six poems in the book deal with the
aftermath of Jennifer’s mother’s death. There follow a series of tender poems about family members,
including “He Nods Off ” where she watches her
husband falling asleep in a chair while reading a
book:
he has gone somewhere else he is not here he is profoundly blank and he draws
his breath slowly pause slowly and then nothing and then again he breathes out
This poem captures her fear:
I spot him through the window passing from the washing machine to the letterbox
I freeze like the proverbial deer in the forest who has heard a twig crack underfoot
and Jennifer imagines he
will be gone his dark compelling scent will linger on the pillow-case until I strip
the bed and do a load and all his books a widow me viewing shelves and shelves
of books he wakes takes up his book snugs his glasses up and reads head on a tilt.
The relief with the last line is palpable. With
its breathlessness and lack of punctuation—it is
60
eleven lines long and a single sentence—and its
deft detail—“head on a tilt”—this poem achieves
a masterly compression. She makes the ordinary,
extraordinary. Matthew is here with us tonight—I
must admit that as a husband I would feel a bit
spooked if the poem had been written about me.
But it is one of those rare things that are difficult
to carry off with success: an intense love poem from
one mature spouse to another, where the marriage
has lasted several decades.
Other memorable poems in this section of the
book are “The Little Boy Knocked off His Bike” and
“The Name of the Street” about the young woman
who was murdered in Hope Street, Brunswick (near
where my daughter lives). Perhaps when Jennifer
publishes this in a “Collected”, a note at the end
of the book might explain the circumstances of the
poem, which may then have been forgotten.
A
n absolute favourite of mine in this book is “The
Frankston Massage”—a hilarious and beautifully achieved poem, which will be an anthology
piece for years to come. Jennifer rings at random
and finds a massage clinic opposite the cemetery:
He is a cheerful Aussie larrikin, he may have had a long liquid lunch.
He offers me a used towel, moist to the touch. I say I like to take my
underwear off. I’m taller than him but not by much. We are of an age.
Where is the whale music, the feng-shui bamboo, and the scented oil?
I hope Jennifer reads this poem later. When it
is read, you may not be aware that the word “my”
ends a two-line verse, and the word “underwear”
begins the next two-line verse. The arrangement of
words on the page simulates the taking off of the
underwear, the stripping away of the “my”, when
we expose our bodies and ourselves to strangers—
an example of Jennifer’s skill as a poet.
A much darker poem, “The Bachelor”, about
female infanticide, is also very fine. These are just a
few of the outstanding poems in this book, which
I believe is Jennifer’s best yet.
Now the book is launched, I hope you will buy
a copy for yourself and one for a friend.
Geoffrey Lehmann’s latest book, Poems 1957–2013,
was discussed by Nicholas Hasluck in the
November issue.
Quadrant April 2015
D ougl as H assa ll
The Connoisseurs
Kenneth Clark and Federico Zeri
I
n one of his Rumpole of the Bailey episodes, John
Mortimer QC put the following words into the
mouth of a litigant in a case concerning works
of art and specifically paintings: “I have confounded
the connoisseurs!”
Expert opinion about the authenticity of pictures
is notoriously fraught with difficulty and division.
Although the particular issue was not authenticity as such, Australia saw a celebrated instance of
the problems surrounding opinions about the forms
and merits of artworks in the litigation brought in
1944 by other competitors against the award of the
Archibald Prize to William Dobell for his portrait
of fellow artist Joshua Smith. There have been many
other examples and instances from time to time.
Journalists have a field day commenting upon such
cases and often lampoon the various opinions proffered. However, it has long been recognised that true
expertise in regard to the authenticity and merits of
works of art almost inevitably involves at least some
element of “connoisseurship”. This acquired professional knowledge or skill about pictures, or works in
other media, tends rather to be dismissed by some
these days; but there is no doubt that it exists and it
is important, not only in the forensic field for litigation, but also taking a major place in art history.
This article considers three of the most celebrated
connoisseurs of the twentieth century: Bernard
Berenson (1865–1959) and two of his most famous
protégés, Kenneth Clark (1903–83) and Federico
Zeri (1921–98). Clark is familiar to us as “Lord Clark
of Civilisation” (as he was once described), his television series Civilisation: A Personal View being a
high point in itself and an important beginning in
the counter-movement for retrieval of the cultural
tradition of the West against the many forces seeking its disintegration. Clark had an important influence on the development of art in Australia, by his
encouragement of our artists exhibiting in London,
by his advice on the National Gallery of Victoria’s
collecting under its Felton Bequest, and by his visit
to Australia in 1949 to consult about the NGV’s col-
lection and its plans for a new gallery.
Zeri is less well known to Australians, but he
was a formidable figure on the art and cultural heritage scene, in Italy and internationally, from the
1950s until his death in 1998. Both had sat at the feet
of Berenson at his Villa I Tatti in the hills above
Florence; and although Berenson’s legacy has been
tarnished somewhat by his deep involvements with
Lord Duveen’s picture dealership, he remains a
highly significant figure in art history during the last
century. In a sense, Berenson and his disciples represent one school or view of the history and appreciation of the art of painting, that of connoisseurship;
as contrasted to the method of “iconographical”
analysis championed by the great Erwin Panofsky
and reliant more upon images and other attributes.
Berenson’s students typically often later fell out with
him or criticised his views, but nevertheless there is
no mistaking his enormous influence upon them.
Whilst Clark was usually careful not to attack his
old mentor or his methods, Zeri as he grew older
became increasingly critical of Berenson’s positions—perhaps it was easier for an Italian countryman to do so than for Clark, who was ultra-urbane
and nothing if not diplomatic. Berenson constitutes
a fascinating study in himself and his development.
T
his is not the place to recount all of Berenson’s
interesting history, as the focus is upon Clark
and Zeri, who, if not exactly his epigones, were the
two most remarkable connoisseurs who benefited
from his tutelage. Berenson was born in Lithuania,
and his family emigrated to the United States and
settled in Boston, where he received a good education. He attended Harvard University, majoring in
Literature including Dante’s works, but also taking
elective courses in the art history of the Medieval
and Renaissance periods, under Charles Eliot
Norton. He was much influenced by Walter Pater’s
Studies in the History of the Renaissance. Funds from
Isabella Stewart Gardner and other Boston benefactors enabled him to travel to Europe in 1888,
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The Connoisseurs
where he married Mary Smith in 1900 and they ultimate test in addition to all the other more formal
leased Villa I Tatti at Settignano outside Florence. or mechanical elements.
They later bought and extended it to accommodate
He says: “The greater the artist, the more weight
Berenson’s growing library on art history and their falls on the question of Quality in the consideraprivate collection of paintings.
tion of a work attributed to him.” Much has been
Berenson’s scholarly reputation was established made of Berenson’s discussions elsewhere of what
by a series of major essays and books including he described as “tactile values” discerned in and
Venetian Painters of the Renaissance, Italian Painters from the artworks; and many have dismissed this
of the Renaissance, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, as just another way of Berenson trying to explain
Florentine Painters, Central Italian Painters and North what can be regarded as ultimately subjective views
Italian Painters. These works, later reprinted sumptu- about pictures. However, it is clear that Berenson
ously by the Phaidon Press, remain Berenson’s main and his disciples, Zeri in particular and Clark to
monument, apart from his villa and library, which some lesser degree—despite their differences with
he bequeathed to Harvard. Despite many criticisms Berenson as time went by—adhered to a process of
of Berenson and academic revisionconnoisseurship that started first
isms, these books are still signifiwith objective or formal elements,
cant works, representing milestones
but added also judgments based on
t the Louvre,
in Western civilisation. Along with
factors like the “Sense of Quality”
Berenson was
the superb large posthumous volattained by real connoisseurs. In
received like royalty a way, one can adapt here the layume on Berenson’s own art collection, edited by his last assistant and the officials took man’s old saw about art, “I know
Nicky Mariano, they are duly treaswhat I like”, but the genuine conured by genuine art historians and down famous pictures noisseur does, in addition, know a
bibliophiles internationally.
and removed the glass lot about art, to the requisite level to
In 1895 Berenson published
detect this quality. One can verify
for him to inspect
the essay “The Rudiments of
this for oneself by reading Looking
directly, with Clark at Pictures with Bernard Berenson,
Connoisseurship (A Fragment)”
in which he attempted to set out a
now the most accessible collection
at his side, works
“scientific” basis for his practice of
of Berenson’s writings on pictures
like Giorgione’s
connoisseurship. He focused on the
and with generous colour plates of
basic elements or materials for con“Fête Champêtre”. the paintings discussed in the selecnoisseurship as being: contemporary
tions from his texts and Berenson’s
documents; tradition; and the works
famous “Lists”. The photograph
of art themselves. He states the important qualifica- of the almost blind Berenson listening with rapt
tions and cautions to be exercised with respect to all attention to Yehudi Menuhin’s violin performance
of these materials; and he notes the especial difficul- in 1959 is in itself evidence of the monument that
ties about verifying ostensible signatures and dates Berenson had become. Despite his faults and small
and the doings of forgers. Whilst recognising that vanities, here was a relic from the reign of Queen
it can have a place, he is circumspect about any tra- Victoria and the era of Abraham Lincoln, Pius IX
dition, oral or written, with regard to any particu- and Walter Pater—an international treasure. Clark
lar works of art. He discusses in some detail all the and Zeri continued this legacy even longer.
particular elements such as the parts of the body,
ir Kenneth Clark, later Baron Clark OM CH,
the head and the face, as typically painted by variwas Surveyor of the King’s Pictures in the 1930s
ous Italian artists of the Renaissance, for instance;
and their relative merits and demerits as tests of the and as Director of the National Gallery in London
veracity of artistic authorship. He also gives atten- supervised the safe hiding of the Gallery’s Old
tion on the same basis, and with like qualifications Masters collection underground in Wales during the
and cautions, to matters such as the draperies and Second World War. He was active in British televiarchitectural details depicted in the pictures under sion from the 1930s and is best known for Civilisation
consideration. Berenson meant what he said when (1968). His many published scholarly works of art
he chose the title “Rudiments of Connoisseurship history include The Gothic Revival (1928), Leonardo
(A Fragment)”, and indeed he ends by saying that da Vinci: An Account of his Development as a Artist
he has not even really discussed the more myste- (1939), Piero della Francesca (1951), Landscape into
rious and controversial “Art of Connoisseurship”, Art (1949), The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form (1956),
apart from touching upon the important question Florentine Painting (1945), Looking at Pictures (1960),
of the true connoisseur’s “Sense of Quality” as the Ruskin Today (1964), Rembrandt and the Italian
A
S
62
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The Connoisseurs
Renaissance (1966), Animals and Men (1977), What
is a Masterpiece? (1979) and Feminine Beauty (1980),
as well as his formidable Catalogue of the Drawings
of Leonardo in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle
(1935) in addition to a book on those Drawings
(1968/69, with Carlo Pedretti).
He attended Winchester College and Trinity
College, Oxford, where he was initially attracted by
John Ruskin’s works and also read Walter Pater’s
essays on the Renaissance. Even apart from the
Civilisation series which made him world famous
after 1968, it is clear from the above list of publications that Clark “had the goods” as a scholar and
an art historian. Indeed, it was this body of written
work and curatorship, combined with certain innate
qualities of personality, that made him a natural
teacher and expositor on television, which enabled
and fitted him to succeed in high degree as the
West’s then pre-eminent cultural interpreter.
Clark first became part of Berenson’s circle in
1925, an event he described in the earlier of his two
books of autobiography as follows: after noting that
the works of art at Villa I Tatti “were arranged with
an air of finality, so that they are still in the same
places today”, Clark wrote:
Then came an awkward moment when Mr
Berenson asked me, “Does Charlie Bell still think
I am a charlatan?” Fortunately, before I could
answer, Mrs Berenson called down the steps that
it was time to leave for Vienna, and we all walked
up to see him off. He selected a more imposing
hat … and advanced towards the door, where a
huge Lancia car, containing Mrs Berenson, her
maid and Parry, his chauffeur for fifty years, was
panting for his departure. Just after passing the
bronze Egyptian cat he stopped, put his hand
on my arm and said, “I’m very impulsive my
dear boy, and I have only known you for a few
minutes, but I would like you to come and work
with me to help me prepare a new edition of my
Florentine Drawings. Please let me know.” In her biography of Clark, Meryle Secrest notes
that in fact Clark had already formed a dislike for
Berenson as being “arrogant”, but a key opportunity
had knocked and after some debate with his parents
he accepted the offer. Whilst that collaboration did
not work out well, Clark spent a lot of time over
the next two years with the Berensons, accompanying them to Paris where, at the Louvre, Berenson
was received like royalty and the officials took down
famous pictures and removed the glass for him to
inspect directly, with Clark at his side, works like
Giorgione’s Fête Champêtre. Although Clark shifted
his focus to his book on Gothic Revival and work
with Leonardo’s drawings, his two years with
Berenson were influential and laid important foundations for Clark’s later career as an art historian.
From an Australian point of view, we remain
indebted to Clark for his contribution to the development of the National Gallery of Victoria and his
encouragement and patronage of Australian artists
such as Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd, which had
an important effect in the 1960s. Clark also had a
major role in the formation of the NGV’s collection of European pictures, in his capacity as London
adviser to the Felton Bequest. In a pre-echo of later
criticism of Clark, the jaundiced view of the tetchy
Australian art critic J.S. MacDonald was, “What
has Sir Kenneth Clark ever said to advance the
cause of Art?” In retrospect, having regard to the
Civilisation series, MacDonald’s swipe at Clark now
seems even more ludicrous than it was in 1949. Clark
had advised the NGV to acquire Poussin’s Crossing
of the Red Sea in 1948, which still is the most significant European picture in any Australian public
gallery.
Clark pioneered television programs on art topics, and yet another echo of his Berensonian training
in connoisseurship showed in his two publications, with introductions and notes, of collections
of detailed photographs of works in the National
Gallery collection, One Hundred Details from Pictures
in the National Gallery (1938) and More Details from
Pictures in the National Gallery (1941). These largeformat books were unusual for their time and seem
to have been in part the fruit of Clark using opportunities offered by war-precaution storing of the pictures in Wales both to record them photographically
(many works in war-torn Europe had been destroyed
by aerial bombing, if not looted by the Nazis) and
also to offer the public an examination of details
in a manner reminiscent of Berenson’s attention to
formal elements.
I
nevitably, as the decades have passed, the prickings and cuts of academic criticism and revisionism have had their effect on Clark’s standing in the
view of those influenced thereby. This was evident in
some negative or “qualified” reviews of the exhibition devoted to Clark’s achievements held at the Tate
Gallery in 2014. However, he still has his defenders
among art history scholars, among the culturally literate, and especially among the wider general public, who have always shown an affectionate regard
for what Clark did for us all in his Civilisation series.
It was never intended, nor ever pretended, to be any
definitive history of Western art. Its subtitle made it
clear it was but “A Personal View” and Clark readily conceded that he was unable to include the art
of Spain and had to jettison a proposed thirteenth
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The Connoisseurs
episode, which would have dealt with the great age
of Classicism and Painters such as Nicolas Poussin.
He also conceded that the series had other limitations, largely due to what he styled the “canonical”
requirements of the television series format. It was
a tour de force enlivened by having been filmed and
then telecast in quality full colour.
Clark’s career and life and his worldwide fame
through Civilisation stand in considerable contrast
to that of his fellow Berenson protégé Federico
Zeri, who was much more of a maverick and
outspoken personality, whereas Clark, despite a
privileged wealthy background, was rather more
“conformist”—although one might say that their
differences perhaps largely reflected well-recognised
cultural contrasts between Italy and Britain in the
middle and the later decades of the twentieth century.
Clark was not infallible in his connoisseurship. He
made several “mistakes”, even in acquisitions for his
private collection. Even so, it is clear from any fair
consideration of Clark’s body of work, including
but not limited to Civilisation, that he brought to
bear on his scholarship and his public curatorial
and expository roles, something which was at once
both peculiarly British as well as being very much
in the spirit cultivated by Berenson and his notion
of connoisseurship. In this sense, until his death in
1983, Clark linked us to Berenson’s world.
F
ederico Zeri is less well known in the Anglophone
world than Kenneth Clark, although Zeri had a
considerable presence and following in the United
States, due to his many visits there consulting and
compiling catalogues of pictures by Italian Masters
in US collections. Although Zeri never held any
academic post in Italy, he was a towering figure
in the field of Italian art history—literally towering, as he was a man of large frame and grand (but
not overbearing) presence. He was never precious
though, and he could often be impish; he liked practical jokes, such as imitating the voices of others on
the telephone. He was outspoken and could be provocative on issues relating to his field and on what
he considered as the decline in the standards of care
and conservation of the national cultural heritage in
his homeland.
After graduating in 1945 in Fine Arts from Rome
University, where he studied under Pietro Toesca,
Zeri became an official in the Italian Ministry of
Cultural Heritage. His career there did not last
long; probably, one suspects, because of the formidable firmness of his views. Of course, real talent is
but rarely recognised in any bureaucracy; and even
if it is recognised, it is hardly ever appreciated, let
alone encouraged. Timeservers and placepersons
tend to proliferate, to the detriment of the matters
64
they are supposed to be administering beneficially:
Plato’s parable of the shepherd and the flock comes
to mind.
Zeri described his first meeting with Berenson
at Villa I Tatti in 1943 thus: “With the impassive
coldness of an ivory idol or a Tibetan sage, Berenson
received me for a preliminary audience, lasting from
16.32 to 16.54 precisely.” Anna Ottani Cavina adds:
although brief, the meeting did, however, prove
memorable, and Berenson recalled it in his
Diari. Young Zeri, who was undoubtedly the
candidate of choice from [Roberto] Longhi’s
circle, later became the only Italian art historian
to be invited to the exclusive club at I Tatti.
Zeri moved on to become Director of the Galleria
Spada in Rome in 1948, and it was from this period
that his career and his fame took off. Zeri’s graduate thesis was on Jacopino del Conte, the Roman
Mannerist painter, then regarded as obscure, but
now recognised as quite important. He followed
this up with a detailed major catalogue of the Spada
collection published by Sansoni in 1954. After that:
Zeri’s career path followed that of the
independent art historian, although he never
lost his critical conscience with regard to the
protection of art and the close ties between works
and their contexts. His interest in rediscovering
minor areas of art production led to the
philological and historical revival of forgotten
artists, lost pictorial series and an entire legacy
previously overlooked by scholars. From 1948 on,
Zeri published extensively on the subject in a
clear, terse style, in the tradition of art literature
in the English-speaking world, even borrowing
from the language of science. This certainly went
against the more allusive and literary Longhian
style in fashion in Italy at the time. His first
trips to Paris and London between 1947 and 1948
brought him into contact with leading figures
in international connoisseurship such as Philip
Pouncey, Denis Mahon, John Pope-Hennessy
and Frederick Antal. Zeri later confessed owing
a great deal to Antal for his interest in the
relationship between art and society.
Zeri was later a trustee of J.P. Getty’s Art
Museum at Malibu.
In 2013, Maurizio Canesso wrote thus of Zeri
and his methods:
Connoisseurship is about much more than
just solving the difficulties of attribution,
encompassing a far more wide-ranging and
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The Connoisseurs
diverse body of expertise. Faced with the
inherent conundrum of the work of art and
the question it poses, connoisseurship is about
setting the work in its country of origin, its
historical context, a school, a milieu; it is about
dating it accurately, about penetrating the secrets
of a distinctive iconography. Federico Zeri’s
bold statement remains just as relevant today as
when he first made it: “However modest it may
be, a simple, well-founded attribution represents
a tangible achievement—something entirely
alien to most of the chatter with which we are
assailed on a daily basis.” Because Zeri had the
connoisseur’s “eye”—a skill he put into practice
in the greatest institutions of Europe and
the United States, as well as for many private
collectors. His bibliography, which includes
many museum catalogues, reflects his conviction
that “to be an art historian, you have to be a
genuine expert”. [Hence] his practice of the art
of connoisseurship lent dynamism and vitality to
the market for old masters paintings …
Pierre Rosenberg, a member of the French
Academy and honorary president of the Louvre, had
this to say of Zeri:
Federico was capricious, unpredictable,
sometimes moody. He loved to fool around and
was the type of character you rarely come across
in life. His personality often overshadowed the
great art historian he was, an exceptional “eye”,
an unparalleled “attributionist”. He was much
more. Those who used to go to [his home at]
Mentana and who now visit the Federico Zeri
Foundation in Bologna (which thanks to Anna
Ottani Cavina, is dedicated to him) take stock
of his work, which has become indispensable
to all those who are interested in, among
others, the Italian Primitives, still lifes, and in
painters of battles (but also fakes and forgers)
… Correctly identifying a painter is, alas, no
longer fashionable in some academic circles,
whether in France or elsewhere. The discipline
strives to be more ambitious, more interpretative,
more intellectual. For visitors … collectors and
curators, artlovers and curious onlookers alike,
however, the right name is essential. Federico
Zeri “detexted” false attributions. He loved
beautiful paintings from all schools and from all
countries.
Rosenberg’s point about the way much of contemporary art history and criticism “strives” for such
wider “goals” is indeed part of the problem, as discussed by Dr Tronn Overend in these pages in his
articles on “What is Art?” (Quadrant, May and June
2014 and January-February 2015). With Zeri, we are
still in the world of the genuine art historian and
scholar, a species one hopes is not yet extinct, as
some may wish it to be.
T
he story is retold by Anna Ottani Cavina about
Zeri’s having found photographs of three of the
four missing and untraced panels of the celebrated
Trionfo della Castita taken from an old Italian painted
marriage chest, inside a cookbook Zeri purchased
at a small bookshop in Greenwich Village in New
York in 1963. It is a typical example of the serendipity that is well known to book collectors and browsers the world over, but also a testament once again
to Zeri’s famously all-seeing “eye”. One pauses here
to note that such magical inclusions simply do not
occur in “e-books”; and to recall the cartoon of a
teenager wearing a baseball cap backwards asking a
bow-tied Antiques Roadshow expert “what it might
have been used for”—the item on the table being a
book!
Books in his vast library accumulated over a
lifetime were central to Zeri’s work and his skill.
As they had been to Berenson, to Zeri his books
as much as his mental visual recollections were one
part of the business of his scholarship. The other
was the indispensable actual view. That is not to say
that art scholars may not also greatly benefit from
what contemporary computer technology makes so
abundantly available in terms of images and ready
comparisons of works all around the world. Nor
was Zeri a priggish or narrow scholar—at home
amongst his pictures he deliberately set a few modern “kitsch” objects to provide due contrast.
It is useful to note Zeri’s views on the use of
photographs in art historical scholarship and on the
issue of colour quality where applicable. Enclosed
with the book Federico Zeri et le Connoisseurship
(Paris Tableau, 2013, kindly supplied to me by Mr
Michael Shamansky of New York) the DVD by
Eduardo de Gregorio entitled “L’Occhio” is a fiftyfive-minute conversation between Zeri and Pierre
Rosenberg. Rosenberg rather playfully subjects the
great man to a sequence of “eye” tests—presenting
Zeri with a series of black-and-white photographs of
artworks and seeking his instant opinions thereon.
Zeri stated that he preferred clear and sharp blackand-white photographs, saying that colour renditions in photographs were unreliable and likely to
mislead. It is obvious from Rosenberg’s reactions on
the film that he had no doubts as to the efficacy of
Zeri’s method of connoisseurship in the case of such
identifications and also the cogency of his views.
As with Clark, Zeri made his mistakes but did not
shrink from admission.
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The Connoisseurs
The photographic archives kept by Zeri, because of their contact long ago with Berenson
which now lodge at his Foundation in Bologna, at Settignano, but also because of what they made
constitute perhaps the largest single collection of of the careers which their contact with Berenson
such photographic records of the time. His mentor initially assisted them to launch. Clark reached an
Berenson had also amassed an enormous collection international audience at a pivotal time during the
of photographs of Italian pictures of the Renaissance, last century. In Zeri’s case, it was widely recognised
and these are now with Harvard’s Villa I Tatti that he was the only one among the young aspirant
Foundation. There is something old-fashioned about Italian art historians whom Bernard Berenson
reliance upon such photographic images today. Yet, took into his closest circle at Villa I Tatti. Zeri
for all the ready access online to vast collections the was our last remaining major link with Berenson’s
world over, scholars still need to view the “works profession of connoisseurship.
in themselves” as Berenson had insisted; but we
In addition to his expertise on Italian Old Master
must remember that although Zeri lived on into pictures, Zeri was a great collector of, and leading
the age of the internet, Clark and Berenson worked authority on, ancient marbles and inscriptions. At his
at a time when photographs were an important home in Mentana, designed by the architect Busiri
way of making reasonably ready comparisons with Vici, he formed one of largest private collections of
pictures widely dispersed internationally. Even on marble antiquities in private hands, including many
the iconographical level alone such
examples of ancient inscriptions
photographic records remain of
he set into walls. These are now
considerable importance.
all
part of the Zeri Foundation,
he contemporary
Happily, there exists a colour
administered with the University
obscuring of what
film of the 1998 Ceremony and
of Bologna. It is interesting to hear
Conversazione at the University of
Zeri speak about the indispensable
they stood for is
Bologna when it conferred an honneed for tactile knowledge when
not a good sign
orary doctorate upon Federico Zeri.
assessing the art and quality of
for a civilisation
This film discloses a lot about Zeri,
sculptures—and, of course, this is
both the scholar and the personalseen
again in Kenneth Clark’s last
which is now once
ity; at once modest in demeanour
gesture in the final frames of his
again under siege. Civilisation series, where he fondly
but ebullient in tone when speaking on the art history and cultural
caresses the curves of a small piece
heritage issues about which he was
of sculpture by Henry Moore.
passionate, in the very best and old sense of that Federico Zeri was as much of a figure in Italy as
now much-abused word. Whilst he could be a dif- Clark was elsewhere, and they shared the common
ficult character, it is a reproach to the Academy in heritage of Berenson’s influence.
Italy that he was not given a Chair in Fine Arts
Berenson died in 1959, Clark in 1983 and Zeri
many decades before—although late in life he did in 1998. We are now nearly two decades beyond
come close to being made the Italian Minister their epoch, yet Berenson’s contribution flourished
for Fine Arts and Heritage. His Italian television for most of the twentieth century personally and
appearances made him at least as well known to his through them. Now, it is rather as Sir Thomas
countrymen as Lord Clark became to the peoples Beecham lamented about singers: “There are some
of Britain and the wider Anglosphere. These were good basses, but I find none of the Great Basses as
not only by way of the occasional interview or panel we once had.” So, here and there, some few keep
show appearances; there were also a whole series of up the art of connoisseurship, but the general drift
television broadcasts on particular artists and works in the fine arts is into broader speculations and
of art, and even one dedicated to Zeri’s opinions “theory”.
about the restoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling
One does not want to be too much of a Jeremiah
frescoes. Many of these presentations are readily in these matters, but on sitting back and fairly conavailable on YouTube.
sidering the works and achievements of these three
great twentieth-century connoisseurs of the art of
ew today will credit any notion of apostolic the West and particularly its Italian central branch,
succession in the field of art history or in as it were, we must concede that the world is the
any other field of scholarship, if only because poorer for their eclipse. The contemporary obscurfewer believe in human inspiration, let alone in ing of what they stood for is not a good sign for
divine revelation. However, if we can recognise a civilisation which is now once again under siege.
an apostolic succession of connoisseurship, then The greatest of the historians of Western art and
Clark and Zeri are important figures, not merely civilisation, Jakob Burckhardt of Basel, warned us
T
F
66
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The Connoisseurs
as long ago as the 1890s that it would be attacked
in our epoch, just as it was previously attacked, by
forces of manipulated self-loathing within, and evils
without.
A due attendance to the genuine strengths of our
Western cultural heritage, rather than to the things
which distract and detract from it, and indeed the
decadence and the lack of focus which positively
traduce it, is an important source of our abilities to
survive and overcome these forces. As Clark noted
several times in his Civilisation series, the decline
of a great civilisation usually begins with a waning
or crisis of confidence in itself, which its enemies
exploit, whilst the populace merely diverts itself.
In the fine arts, as in other things, we need
knowledge of the fundamental elements, with an
ability to discern quality and the genuine from
dross. A key “intellectual” move by those who seek
to level the West from within has been to speak in
abstractions instead of the concrete. Thus, it is no
longer an “art gallery” but an “exhibition space”; and
hence the content within can likewise have little or
no connection with the subject matter of genuine
art. A similar exercise takes place daily in all fields
and areas of activity, where the very notion of an
established canon is thus abandoned.
Dr Douglas Hassall is a frequent contributor to
Quadrant on art, most recently on Frank Auerbach in
the March issue.
Mansa Musa’s Hajj
(1289 AD)
When the richest
man in history racks up in Cairo,
the awed denizens, dazzled by
his retinue—
twelve thousand slaves
each carrying gold bars, heralds in silks
bearing carved golden staffs, eighty
fine camels with full sacks
of gold dust—
are doubly wowed
when the ingots are handed out
like candy, to the crowd.
But Cairo’s
fragile gold-market, buoyed up
by scarcity, flooded with Mali gold,
capsizes—and worse is
yet to come—
fables grow
of fabulous wealth, the over-lucky
to be plucked, thousands dream
and hack their way back to the source
—Mali is upturned, ready
to be forced.
If only Mansa Musa
had twigged his glut of pretty baubles
would cause such fuss!
Besetting Sins
(Hailes Chapel, Gloucestershire)
We stoop and step down
through the low-arched small door
onto a riot of wall paintings.
Among huntsmen,
hounds, saints, and a cornered,
harassed hare, is a small marvel—
a medieval elephant,
painted as imagined by a person
who’d never seen one.
This thirteenth century
beast, painted red with green
cartoonish wings, raises a trunk
shaped like a cleaver to strike
down a cowering griffin.
Delighted, we wonder
if that Islamic artistic flaw,
might not just be in awe of God’s perfection,
but also a homage to our own
wonky wings, wrong angles, pratfalls—
eager,
as we always are, for the next
fabulous tale—and readily smitten
by a plausible elephant.
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Olivia Byard
67
M ich a el C on nor
Writers on the
Foggy Frontier
T
ruman Capote cheated. With his 1966 book
In Cold Blood, on the killing of a Kansas
farming family, he claimed to have invented
the “non-fiction novel” by merging facts with the
techniques of fiction writing. Actually, he lied and
polished the “facts” with invention. The result was a
“true crime” best-seller.
Ryszard Kapuściński fabricated. Three years
after his death, the reputation of the renowned
Polish journalist and travel writer was hit by Artur
Domosławski’s biography, which revealed that
many of the marvels decorating the acclaimed books
were phony. The international Ryszard Kapuściński
Award for literary reportage is given annually by the
Warsaw City Council.
In his essay “The Literature of Fact”, Timothy
Garton Ash considered the non-fiction writers who
add improvements to their texts with inventions
and fabrications as they wander across the border
between, what he calls, the “literature of fact” and
the “literature of fiction”. The times themselves, he
notes, are against a defence of the boundaries: “Who
cares? It’s all entertainment anyway.” Garton Ash
argues the defence is worth undertaking because of
“the moral and artistic quality of witness”. In order
to defend, he concedes what every historian, journalist and policeman knows, that there are very
different and opposing “facts” and memories. The
writer’s testimony may err but it can’t be improved
or invented, and “any meaningful notion of witness
depends on having a clear delineation of this frontier and knowing which side you are supposed to be
on at any one time”. The essay posed a worthy challenge: “It may seem a grave limitation for any writer
to leave the facts as facts, but self-limitation is a key
to art. On this frontier we should stand.”
La Fin de l’ homme rouge, ou le temps du
désenchantement
by Svetlana Alexievich
Actes Sud, 2013, 544 pages, €24,80
68
In America, Lee Gutkind’s quarterly magazine
Creative Nonfiction stands beside Garton Ash when
offering guidance for its author readers:
“Creative” doesn’t mean inventing what didn’t
happen, reporting and describing what wasn’t
there. It doesn’t mean that the writer has a
licence to lie. The cardinal rule is clear—and
cannot be violated. This is the pledge the writer
makes to the reader—the maxim we live by, the
anchor of creative nonfiction: “You can’t make
this stuff up!”
Sometimes, when the stuff is made up, as in the
case of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, there is a
strong media and public reaction; sometimes not—
especially when the “Who cares?” tactic is brought
into play.
I
n a far country, surely well behind the “literature
of fact” frontier, a pit has been dug in an open
field near some woods. In it are children—Jewish
children. Soon they will be covered with soil and
murdered. Standing above, close to the edge, are
laughing Germans. They throw the children sweets.
Belarussian Svetlana Alexievich, armed with tape
recorder and pen, appears to be an honoured citizen
in the territory of fact—where nothing is invented
by the author. Book chatter led me to La Fin de
l’ homme rouge, ou le temps du désenchantement (The
End of the Red Man, or the Time of Disenchantment;
the original Russian title is Second-Hand Time).
For over 500 pages Red Man leads readers across
the dead empire of the old USSR listening to the
voices of the people who were born Soviets and now
belong to quite different countries. The cover blurb
calls it a “magnificent requiem”. Either already published or with rights sold in sixteen countries, it has
not yet been published in English. In France it won
the Médicis essay prize and was book of the year for
literary magazine Lire.
Previous books by Alexievich in English include
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Writers on the Foggy Frontier
collections of interviews about Chernobyl and the for surely the words belong to the individuals who
Soviet Afghanistan War. For several years she has spoke them. Alexievich’s written contribution to the
been suggested as a highly ranked contender for the text is confined to simple insertions that add details
Nobel Prize for Literature. Last October, a New that act like stage directions to help set the scene.
Yorker headline on an article promoting her candi- She appears to be an inspired interviewer, editor and
dature read: “Nonfiction Deserves a Nobel”. Quite assembler, but not a writer. Though the stories are
so, but only as long as we are sure which side of the remarkable, it is unusual that an oral history comfrontier she inhabits.
piler should be considered for a Nobel Prize. As a
Red Man presents a marvellous and vast assem- reader of Red Man I began with complete trust and
blage of witnesses: “I’ve been searching for a genre enthusiasm but gradually came to a point of uncerthat would be most adequate to my vision of the tainty where I was left wondering whether the comworld to convey how my ear hears and my eyes see piler had become author, and burrowed across the
life. I tried this and that and finally I chose a genre frontier into the literature of fiction.
where human voices speak for themselves.” The texts
“Vassili Pétrovich N., member of the Communist
are beautifully written, or spoken: “Sometimes I am Party since 1922, 87 years old”: the introduction to
asked: do people really talk so beautifully? People the speaker is typically brief, and obscure. The old
never speak as beautifully as when
man sits with his cat on his knees.
they are in love or near death.” The
His grandson is also present and
characters in her book are not all
with a few political jokes.
began with complete interjects
in love or near death. It’s a pretty
His story includes a moment in his
response that doesn’t answer the trust and enthusiasm youth when the Kulaks were being
question or go a step further and
deported and a train was halted at
but gradually
explain how the stories in her books
a railway station he was guarding:
came to a point of
are so satisfyingly complete, like
“I opened a wagon and, in a corner,
short fictions rather than untidy
uncertainty where I saw a half-naked man hung by a
lumps of lived lives.
A mother nursed a baby in her
was left wondering belt.
arms, and an older child, a little boy,
n opening the covers of Red whether the compiler was sitting on the floor. He ate his
Man you tumble into a fastwith his hands, like semhad become author, excrement
flowing current of reminiscences
olina.” The words shock. It is like
that throw you about in time and and burrowed across suddenly seeing a photograph, never
place from the earlier days of the
the frontier into the seen before, of utter brutality. If true
Soviet Union until the fragmented
this quite perfect repreliterature of fiction. memory,
1990s. Brief snippets of overheard
sentation of a Stalinist Holy Family
street conversations, interviews in
is a description to place beside the
kitchens and trains: Alexievich
words of Robert Conquest, Martin
is listening to people anywhere and everywhere. Malia, Nicolas Werth or Alexander Yakovlev—but
Sometimes the place and occasion are noted but is it true? About the same time, at another railway
often not. There are love and suicide and war, tor- station, a German journalist threw a chicken bone
ture and disease, nostalgia for Stalin, nostalgia for he had finished with out of the train window. The
life pre-Gorbachev. Alexievich interviews hun- peasants standing about threw themselves on it. For
dreds of individuals and may return several times to Malcolm Muggeridge, “It was one of those little,
record the same people—this is surprising to learn, quick scenes which live with one like stigmata.” In
as the impression given is that the interviews were Red Man I feel an uncertainty as to whether I am
recorded during chance encounters or on single spe- reading the lacerating memory of an old man or a
cific occasions. Of fifty to seventy pages of notes striking fiction which perfectly represents a time of
she may only use anything from half a page to five horror. No doubt Alexievich’s tape recordings of
pages. Though she cleans up a little (there are no these interviews would clear up any doubt.
ums and ahs) and deletes repetitions, she doesn’t
“The Son” follows a narration by “Anna Maïa,
stylise, she says, and keeps the real language of her architect, 59 years old”. When her story concludes,
interviewees. People aren’t telling history but their this section begins. In an author’s note Alexievich
own stories. “I don’t write the history of facts, but says he has asked that his name not be given. His
that of souls.” Without the punctuation of “facts” in text covers about seventeen pages and in it he tells
her text it is impossible to verify the truth of what how at one time he was engaged to a girl whose
she is being told, and has transcribed.
grandfather, he discovered one day when he and the
Praise for Alexievich’s writing seems undeserved, old man were talking alone together, had been an
I
O
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69
Writers on the Foggy Frontier
NKVD torturer and executioner. Over three pages
of text the old man speaks of his past. It is horrifying and extraordinary and presented as a firstperson account. One man, in a taped interview, has
suddenly started talking as another man. It is as if
an actor has come onstage and begun a monologue
and then assumed the identity of a completely different man for a quite different monologue. As a
theatrical performance it could be brilliant—but it
does not sound like an interview.
“A Man’s Story”. Within the narrative of his
life an elderly Jewish man tells of the day he and
his family were taken from the Minsk ghetto to be
murdered. As they waited, pits were dug in a field
near woods. It’s a surprisingly vague reminiscence.
“It’s as if in a fog,” he says. Parts of his account are
familiar from other survivor stories told by Soviet
Jews. During the terrible day children were buried
alive. “Laughing Germans” looked into the pit and
threw them sweets. The parents could do nothing.
After the narrator escapes and joins the partisans he
encounters Rosa, a sixteen-year-old Jewish girl who
had joined the partisans and was sexually abused
by them. He recalls a comment made by one of the
men: “She’s only got down, just like little girls! Ha!
Ha! Ha!” Becoming pregnant, she was taken deeper
into the woods and “put down like a dog”.
The old man remembers his mother cutting and
sewing Stars of David for the family. Possibly the
familiar Star is the word choice of the French translator; if not, then there is a problem with the quality
of the evidence. Soviet Jews in Minsk wore distinctive cloth badges, but not the star-shaped symbol
forced on European Jews.
Versions of both “Rosa” and the “sweets” memory
were used by Alexievich when accepting the Peace
Prize of the German Book Trade in 2013. There was
no mention that they had been told to her by this
elderly man. Instead, they were put forward as stories she heard from women in her Belarus village
after the war. And she referred to “young SS soldiers” rather than the “laughing Germans” in the
book.
The story of Rosa cannot be verified but the inclusion of “sweets” during the massacre does lead into
other Holocaust testimony. It raises the question of
whether we are looking at two different incidents in
Minsk or whether the Red Man story is a creative
version of a documented account. In that testimony
the “sweets” are not part of a foggily remembered
event but an element in an incident which occurred
at a specific place on a specific date and with named
participants.
In Minsk, on March 2, 1942, children and staff
from the Jewish Children’s Home were buried
alive in Ratomskaya Street. The Generalkommissar,
70
Gauleiter Wilhelm Kube, later criticised by a colleague for showing “friendliness to Jews”, threw
sweets to the children in the pit. The account was
first published in Yiddish by Ghetto survivor and
historian Hersh Smolar, in Moscow in 1946: “The
screams and cries could be heard far into the
ghetto. Children stretched out their hands pleading
for their lives. Kommissar Kube walked alongside
the ditch, tossing pieces of candy into it.” Smolar’s
book, published in English as Resistance in Minsk, is
a standard reference work. The incident took place
within the ghetto, not outside where Alexievich’s
old man’s story places it—and the nearby woods are
necessary for his story to explain how he escaped.
So we have the old man’s testimony, Alexievich’s
remembered story, and a similar but very different
account. Is this genuine new Holocaust testimony,
questionable oral history, or “faction”? It would be
strange if Minsk-based Alexievich were not aware
of Smolar’s testimony.
I asked two of her publishers if Red Man is fiction or non-fiction. The replies were not single-word
answers, and one suggested that analysing “her
complex writing technique” would be a good subject for a PhD thesis. Alexievich won the Ryszard
Kapuściński Award in 2011: it might be worth getting on with that thesis before a Nobel Prize heads
in her direction.
“You can’t make this stuff up!”
T
he setting is a Paris café in 2005. An Australian
writer is talking to his French publisher and
translator: “‘Actually,’ I said, ‘Daniel doesn’t exist. I
invented him.’ My publisher was not just nonplussed
but flabbergasted.”
The characters are Robert Dessaix and MariePierre Bay, and he is the storyteller. The book is
Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev—the winner
of several Australian literary awards. On learning
that the Mercure de France is about to release a fabricated travel memoir, Madame Bay’s reaction was
not quite what I would have expected: “‘But he’s so
real,’ she said, slowly lowering her expensive spoonful of crème brûlée, ‘so completely French, so believable. Perhaps you should be writing fiction.’” He is.
She had turned this account of Dessaix’s first
meeting with “Daniel” into elegant French, believing it to be true:
We’d met in Kuala Lumpur, of all places, a few
years before when he’d been in his Sufic phase.
He’d asked me to take his photograph in the
butterfly house at Lake Gardens—we’d had
to wait for a trembling iridescent blue creature
to alight on his shoulder—then we’d run into
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Writers on the Foggy Frontier
intelligent and carefully observed autobiography
and travel memoirs, becomes pretentious and arch,
and very funny when you realise he is making it up,
and had successfully fooled us readers and critics
who accepted it as a beautifully written exemplar of
the “literature of fact”.
Earlier this year a media and internet storm
destroyed the career of a US news reader who
invented a story that he had been in a helicopter
hit by enemy fire in Iraq. About the same time, it
was announced that the upcoming Adelaide Writers
Week was to be dedicated to Robert Dessaix:
“Festival Director, Laura Kroetsch, said she was
thrilled because Dessaix is the first non-fiction
writer to receive the honour.”
each other again in one of those crowded,
aromatic streets around Bukit Bintang and
had a meal together under a sign which read:
REFLEXOLOGY CLINIC. IN DOOR
AND OUT DOOR. FOR THE HEALTHY
FOOT. These are the kind of trivial things one
remembers about pivotal moments. What we
actually talked about now escapes me. Sufism,
butterflies, Baudrillard, tie-dying—with Daniel
it could have been absolutely anything.
Smart, the French. On the Mercure de France
website the winner of the Victorian Premier’s
Literary Award for non-fiction in 2005 is classified
as fiction. The paragraph above, typical of Dessaix’s
Windows
Today November’s in deep despond. From indoors
I watch it creeping up from the stream at the foot of the park
like a stray mongrel trailing thin breath over the grass.
All day the grey, low-bellied sky weighs me down. I pine
for a hint of tangerine, of rowanberry but hopelessness,
like the damp, is quick to nose its way into everything.
I smell it in the drawer by the kitchen sink, smell it
as I squelch through muddied leaves in the copse, stare
at it when I reach the tree felled by last month’s storm,
feel it in the shock of wrenched-out roots. The split trunk
gaping is a reminder of the loop of islands whose towns
and villages were helpless when a typhoon swept through.
All afternoon night threatens to snuff the failing light
but at dusk the sky quietly cracks. Strands of eggshell-blue
with white streamers spread, cranberry pools emerge.
Then the moment I open the front door, stand spellbound:
on the other side of our nondescript road the upper windows
are transformed to sheets of a luminous scarlet so dazzling
it’s as though the panes are generating sunset. If only
it was possible, before darkness swallows the last of day,
to funnel off this incandescence, store it for the future.
Quadrant April 2015
Myra Schneider
71
J oe D olce
William S. Burroughs,
Scientologist
You cannot will spontaneity. But you can introduce the
spontaneous factor with a pair of scissors.
—William S. Burroughs
F
or a flickering moment, in the 1960s, the
unlikely orbits of the writer William S.
Burroughs and the founder of Scientology, L.
Ron Hubbard, intersected. Two more incompatible
points of view cannot be imagined, yet, for a short
time, there was common ground. What attracted
the fiercely independent writer to such an organised—some would say controlling—philosophy of
self-development?
To understand what they shared in common,
we have to look briefly at Burroughs’s experiments
with writing, traceable back to the Dadaists and
Freudian dream analysis, and Hubbard’s ideas
about the unconscious mind, also with a taproot in
Freud. Ironically, both creative writers (Hubbard
first made his name as a science-fiction novelist)
also came to view the profession of psychiatry in a
very negative light.
In 1959, Burroughs wrote to the poet Allen
Ginsberg:
The method of directed recall is the method of
Scientology. You will recall I wrote urging you
to contact a local chapter and find an auditor.
They do the job without hypnosis or drugs,
simply run the tape back and forth until the
trauma is wiped off. It works. I have used the
method—partially responsible for recent changes
... I have a new method of writing and do not
want to publish anything that has not been
inspected and processed. I cannot explain this
method to you until you have necessary training.
Although Burroughs attributed his newlyminted writing method to Scientology, he was actually more influenced by the core technique of its
prototype, Dianetics.
Hubbard published Dianetics: The Modern Science
72
of Mental Health in 1950. Based on the theory that the
human mind had three basic parts—the Analytical
mind, the Reactive mind and the Somatic mind—
one of the objectives of Dianetics, through intimate
conversation and counselling with “auditors”, was to
remove the Reactive mind: the recorder that operated when a person was unconscious; the repository of trauma, pain and harmful memories. These
memories—Hubbard labelled them “engrams”—
were often repressed during near-death experiences
and could be triggered by stray words, moods—
even fragrances—decades later, resulting in unpredictable and often destructive behaviour. Once this
reactive mind was cleared, through extensive counselling or auditing, a person—called a Clear—could
be free from these unconscious trauma triggers and
take control of their life.
As a writer, Burroughs saw a different use for
repressed memories. He wasn’t so interested in
removing anything—only accessing them, in his
writing, through spontaneous and accidental word
associations: “Words recorded during a period of
unconsciousness … store pain and ... this pain store
can be lugged in with key words,” he wrote.
Burroughs’s personal interpretation apparently
didn’t set well with R. Sorrell, a spokesperson for
the Church of Scientology, who said: “The aim of
Scientology is not to discover fresh writing material
but to gain spiritual awareness and freedom.”
Burroughs responded: “Here we have the official
pronouncement on the arts. Fresh writing material is incompatible with spiritual awareness and
freedom.”
T
he Burroughs scissor-fetish technique of writing is simple: jot down some text, chop it up,
and jigsaw-puzzle the pieces back together to form
new sentences—and new free associative meanings. (On a good day.) For instance, had Burroughs
run across Banjo Paterson’s “The Man from Snowy
River” while he was in paper-doll cutting mode, the
famous opening lines might have ended up like this:
Quadrant April 2015
William S. Burroughs, Scientologist
There was movement
at the homestead entered into a self-induced paranoid state to decon
overnight, For
struct the concept of identity. (This is the default
riders from the
stations near and far
setting of many of my artistic friends. And, truth be
All the tried and noted
told, a few family members.)
bush horses
Had mustered
at the station
n 1952, L. Ron Hubbard changed the name of
And had joined the wild
the bushmen love Dianetics to Church of Scientology, declaring it
hard riding
a religion.
So all the cracks had
gathered to the fray.
William S. Burroughs took a two-month
For where the wild bush horses are, And the
Scientology course in 1968, including extensive use
stockhorse snuffs
of the E-meter, which he explained as a kind of
the battle with delight.
for the word had primitive lie-detector device. He was even declared
passed around
a Clear. But he later claimed he had trouble represshe was worth a thousand pound,
That the ing many negative feelings towards Hubbard during
colt
his auditing sessions.
from old Regret had got away.
Burroughs suddenly, and loudly, parted ways
with the organisation later in 1968, due to what he
Almost worthy of Ern Malley.
referred to as “the fascist policies of Hubbard” and
But this “cut-up technique” did not originate with “Orwellian security measures”. He said the methBurroughs. It goes back to the Dada movement of odology had indeed turned into a religion that had
the 1920s. During a gathering of Dadaists, Tristan nothing to do with scientific research on the subTzara wrote a poem by selecting words blindfolded jects that interested him. He wrote this disclaimer:
from a hat.
There have been many variations of the hitIn view of the fact that my articles and
or-miss approach in the history of art. Surrealist
statements on Scientology may have influenced
Automatism, or Surautomatism, where the pen
young people to associate themselves with
hand moves randomly on the paper, relied on accithe so-called Church of Scientology, I feel an
dent and chance to free it from rational control. This
obligation to make my present views on the
differed from Automatic Writing, which was one
subject quite clear.
of the mainstays of spiritualists, who attributed the
control of the writing to ghosts or departed spirits.
In a slightly tongue-in-cheek article for the Los
Bulletism involved shooting ink at a blank page. Angeles Free Press, titled “I, William Burroughs,
Guillaume Apollinaire developed the Calligramme: Challenge You, L. Ron Hubbard”, he wrote:
the words or letters making a shape on the page.
The Collage combined newspaper articles, phoSome of the techniques [of Scientology] are
tographs and words to create effect. Coulage was
highly valuable and warrant further study and
involuntary sculpture made by pouring molten liqexperimentation. The E Meter is a useful device
uid into cold water. The Romanian Surrealist Luca
… On the other hand I am in flat disagreement
used Cubomania—the cutting up of photographs
with the organizational policy. No body of
or pictures into squares and reassembling them.
knowledge needs an organizational policy.
Indecipherable Writing was formed by the moveOrganizational policy can only impede the
ment of liquids down a board. A Dream Résumé
advancement of knowledge. There is a basic
recast one’s personal CV into a dream state comincompatibility between any organization and
bining bits of the real and the make-believe.
freedom of thought.
Étrécissement cut away parts of an existing image
to create a new image. In Exquisite Corpse, a writer
After the article was published, Burroughs
wrote something on a piece of paper, folded it and became person non grata with the organisation, or
handed it to another writer who added something in what Scientologists called “the Condition of
to it. Miro used Grattage, where paint was scraped Treason”.
off a canvas, revealing what was beneath. Latent
News was the art of cutting up newspapers and
he idea of repressed traumatic memories, or
reassembling them. Beat Poet Ted Joans invented
engrams, did not originate with Dianetics.
Outagraphy, where the object of a photograph was Aside from the Catholic confessional, Sigmund
cut out, leaving what remained as the final work.
Freud first introduced the notion of the talking
But Salvador Dali came up with my favourite, cure, although some claim William Shakespeare
the Paranoiac-Critical Method, where the artist did Freud-before-Freud with his “aside-to-the-
I
T
Quadrant April 2015
73
William S. Burroughs, Scientologist
audience” self-talk monologues. Freud also stressed
the key importance of dreams. In a work published in
1899, The Interpretation of Dreams, he stated that the
motivation of all dream content was wish-fulfilment:
I shall demonstrate that there exists a
psychological technique by which dreams may
be interpreted and that upon the application of
this method every dream will show itself to be
a senseful psychological structure which may
be introduced into an assignable place in the
psychic activity of the waking state.
Freud called dreams the “Royal Road to the
Unconscious”. Carl Jung agreed with Freud on the
importance of dreams but dismissed the simplistic
notion of dreams only as wish-fulfilment. Jung, in a
more holistic view, shared by many artists and First
Nation peoples, believed dreams reflected a much
greater complexity of the entire personal and collective unconscious.
L. Ron Hubbard disagreed outright with the
value Freud placed on dreams. He had no used for
dream analysis in Dianetics:
Dreams are puns on words and situations in the
engram bank.
Dreams are not much help, being puns.
Dreams are not much used in Dianetics.
You will hear dreams from patients. Patients
are hard to shut off when they start telling
dreams. If you want to waste your time, you will
listen.
Both Hubbard and Burroughs were fundamentally opposed to psychiatry. Burroughs said: “Nine
out of every ten psychiatrists should be broken down
to veterinarians and shave off that goatee if [they]
want to be popular with folks hereabouts.” Hubbard
referred to psychiatrists as “psychs”. After Dianetics
was published, the American Psychological Associ­
ation advised members not to use Hubbard’s
methods.
In a policy letter, written in 1971, Hubbard
declared:
Psychiatry and psychiatrist are easily redefined to
mean “an antisocial enemy of the people”. This
takes the kill-crazy psychiatrist off the preferred
list of professions. This is a good use of the
technique [of redefining words] as for a century
the psychiatrist has been setting an all-time
record for inhumanity to Man.
Although against the “poisonous certainties” in
the practice of psychiatry, Burroughs agreed with
74
Freud and Jung on the value of dreams and their
influence on creativity. But he also wanted to use
Scientology’s techniques of triggering reactive
engrams as a method of reaching the traumatic
materials of his unconscious dream state when he
was fully awake. He believed that there couldn’t
exist a society of people who didn’t dream, as they’d
be “dead in two weeks”. He also claimed that often
he could direct a dream by doing certain things
before he went to bed.
In a lecture on public discourse at the Jack
Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, in 1980,
he said:
Dream logic seems to proceed on associations,
that is one thing is associated with another.
I made quite a collection of dream phrases—
words that occur in dream or words that occur
between sleeping and walking and you get a very
peculiar kind of grammar …
However, Hubbard saw reactive engrams not as
a creative wellspring, but as the cause of all human
woes. He wrote in Dianetics: “The single source of
inorganic mental illness and organic psychosomatic
illness is the reactive engram bank.”
T
he American journalist and scholar H.L.
Mencken once said, “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple—and
wrong.”
I have observed the obsession to find a single source, and a single solution, for all the ills of
humanity, so frequently that it makes me wobbly. I
refer to it as the search for an Absolute. The trouble
is, there are as many single solutions as there are
hairs on a pig.
In ancient times, the Miasma Theory attributed
all illness to pollution, poison gas or bad air. That
was displaced in the nineteenth century by the
discovery of germs. The Navajo believed in singlesource mental and physical illness, with the support
of family as the primary cure. Chiropractors say
if your spine is in perfect alignment, you can’t get
sick. Arnold Erhet, the founder of the Mucusless
Diet Healing System, said that the single cause
of all illness was Constipation. Acupuncturists
attribute good health to the flow of Qi through
“body meridians”. Many alternative health-care
practitioners believe the single most significant
cause of all illness to be an acidic system. “Alkalise,
and be ye healed!”
And of course, there is good old demonic
possession—foul spirits that attach themselves to
people and can only be dislodged by Faith—the latter
view eerily reflecting Scientology’s alleged goals to
Quadrant April 2015
William S. Burroughs, Scientologist
rid the person being audited of an array of unwanted
spiritual entities, called BTs, or Body Thetans, that
have attached themselves to the soul. If any one
aspect could distinguish Scientology as a religion,
in comparison with its forerunner, Dianetics, which
might be said to be closer to a therapy, it is this idea
of demonic possession.
The most definitive single-source discovery of
all illness was humorously made by Harriet Hall,
retired Air Force physician and flight surgeon: “I’ve
discovered the One Cause of all the one-cause theories: a deficiency of critical-thinking skills combined
with an overactive imagination.”
William S. Burroughs certainly had an overactive
imagination, but he was attracted to the dynamics
of Scientology because he was also a true literary
seeker. Remember, it was the late 1950s, when no
one really knew much about it. Progressive creative
people always tend to give challenging new ideas
the benefit of the doubt. It’s hip.
I find Burroughs’s own hindsight comments the
most amusing:
In the words of Celine … “All this time I felt
my self-respect slipping away from me and
finally completely gone. As it were, officially
removed …” Like an anthropologist who has,
after unspeakable indignities, penetrated a
savage tribe, I was determined to hang on and
get the big medicine if I had to f*** the sacred
crocodile.
Joe Dolce, who lives in Melbourne, is a regular
contributor of poetry and prose to Quadrant.
Ten Meditations on a Crowd
1
An unfussy parliament,
it makes laws
for no one and follows them to the letter.
2
It rallies around things it thinks true
but rarely thinks about truth.
3
A crowd is a sure place.
A crowd is generous with winners.
4
You are never, and always, yourself there.
5
Always unhurried,
a crowd waits for no one.
6
It’s whispered about
with a shake of the head
by its pious cousins—
audience, procession, congregation.
7
A crowd swings.
It worships the single life.
8
Its greatest hits are sirens and whistles.
9
It knows what it thinks
and it does what it’s told.
10
A crowd never apologises,
though it forgives
everything.
A crowd turns the other cheek.
Quadrant April 2015
John Foulcher
75
G a ry F ur nell
Love and Humility
as Epistemological Virtues
T
o see the overlooked aspects of anything
takes a peculiar wisdom; you have to see
with fresh vision the things that jaded sight
no longer notices. Part of this fresh vision comes
from the sense that the world is a wonder, not made
by us, not chosen by us, but nevertheless a strange
and mostly cheery home for us. Consistent with this
vision of a cottage-garden-type world in a quaint
universe, G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936) saw that the
homely but overlooked qualities of love and humility are essential, rather than irrelevant, to a robust
epistemology.
When the people who presume to lead society
began to steer it away from faith that the universe
had its origin in a personal creator, to embrace the
faith that the universe had its origin in impersonal
forces, there was a related attempt to create an
epistemology based on impersonal techniques. Sir
William Petty articulated this ideal with eloquent
brevity as early as 1690:
To express itself in terms of numbers, weight
or measure, to use only arguments of sense,
and to consider only such causes as have visible
foundations in nature; leaving those that
depend upon the mutable minds, opinions,
appetites, and passions of particular men to the
consideration of others.
Despite the obvious and justly celebrated successes of these impersonal techniques, there
remains, however, the stubborn fact of man’s personality; not an abstract entity that can be quantified and therefore wholly accounted for, but a
mysterious entity that is expressed in the unique life
of each human being. And the life—and therefore
the judgment—of every individual can be affected
by many things: by a fly buzzing around one’s ear,
or the distinctive nose of a distinguished woman, as
Blaise Pascal noted; or by less tangible things such
as popular theories, conflicting priorities and institutional preferences. We get hints of the dynam76
ics of these affects in the debate on anthropogenic
global warming, which has been plangent with cries
that distortions in published research results are real
and have been caused by biased funding allocations,
ideological fashion and the pressures of politics.
Clearly, it isn’t so easy to remove from any venture
“the mutable minds, opinions, appetites and passions of particular men”.
That man may become venal in his search
for knowledge did not surprise Chesterton; he,
in contrast to ancient or modern determinists,
presupposed a large degree of free will, and any man
could at any time embrace or reject knowledge, with
that decision often complicated by the great power
of self-interest which tempts us to cover our ears to
reason in the hope of some other gain; a temptation
that every one of us has, at some point and in some
manner, allowed to dominate our nobler instincts.
To aid us in the battle against our own
prevarications, Chesterton knew we needed to
develop a deep love for knowledge; nothing less
than love was needed to overcome the temptation to
distort, ignore or suppress unwanted or unanticipated
truths. And it is unanticipated truths that cause
self-satisfied people particular strife, because a
truth born out of time upsets established habits
and ideas. Here, humility joins love not as only a
moral or spiritual ideal but as a vital epistemological
ideal. Chesterton brought the two concepts together
when he observed, “In order to know the truth it is
necessary to desire the truth, especially the truth
you do not know.” A researcher who deeply desires
knowledge is more likely to delight in rather than
to discount unexpected results, while humility
reminds him of his own limitations and leads
him to consider different perspectives and fresh
possibilities. Humility is also an aid to pragmatic
action: it submits to experience and doesn’t insist
on a comprehensive understanding before adopting
an effective strategy or exploring a challenging
conception.
In the history of science there are many examples
Quadrant April 2015
love and humility
the follyasofepistemological
Insurrection virtues
there is probably a beetle view of things of
of the value of humility in the face of clear evidence
which a man is entirely ignorant. If he wishes
bringing great but surprising discoveries to light.
to conceive that point of view, he will scarcely
One thinks of John Cade and the use of lithium
reach it by revelling in the fact that he is not
salts to treat mania.
a beetle. The most brilliant exponent of the
There are also many occasions when arrogance
egoistic school, Nietzsche, with deadly and
led to tragedy on a massive scale. For example, in the
honourable logic, admitted that the philosophy
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, thousands of
of self-satisfaction led to looking down on the
mothers died unnecessarily from puerperal fever as
weak, the cowardly, and the ignorant. Looking
doctors moved straight from autopsies to attending
down on things may be a delightful experience,
women in childbirth; unwittingly, the doctors
only there is nothing, from a mountain to a
carried deadly bacteria from the cadavers to the
cabbage, that is really seen when it is seen from
healthy birthing women and infected them. In 1847,
a balloon. The philosopher of the ego sees
Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor, made the
everything, no doubt, from a high and rarefied
connection between the autopsies and the infections
heaven; only he sees everything foreshortened
and discovered that hand-washing in a chlorinatedor deformed.
lime solution greatly lessened the mortality rate of
the birthing women attended by doctors. However,
Apprehending things from an exaggerated
he couldn’t offer an acceptable scientific explanation
for his observations. The medical fraternity was height deforms one’s vision; so does a lack of
loath to adopt the laborious hand-washing practice love. Chesterton valued love as an epistemological
ideal for a reason that is often
because it didn’t seem logical. The
dismissed: love gives a clearer
necessary rational link—Pasteur’s
discovery of the existence and
his scorn for first vision of reality, whereas suspicion
and antagonism are blinding. It is
effects of bacteria—hadn’t yet been
principles is partly the
person who loves a subject—a
formulated. The doctors, proud and
why contemporary husband, a religion, or a dog, for
busy rationalists, continued to scorn
example—who sees that subject
hand-washing. And they infected
writers have such
with the greatest fullness. True,
thousands more new mothers,
scorn for mankind: love may involve a degree of bias,
creating thousands more needless
tragedies. One could conjecture
not understanding but not to the extent that animosity
involves bias. If any man was asked
that neither love for knowledge or
the basis of their
to nominate his fairest and most
humanity nor humility in the face
of experience were epistemological own philosophy, they incisive critic, most married men
would point to their wives. The
ideals for the doctors who opposed
can’t understand
love of a wife does not blind her
Semmelweis’s demand for a modest
any alternative
to her husband’s faults; more often
degree of hygiene.
a wife’s love gives her the keenest
philosophy either.
vision for all aspects, both good and
hesterton further championed
bad, of her man. But very few men
humility as an aid to knowledge
because humility affirmed a helpful sense of propor- would identify an antagonistic colleague as their
tion between man and nature, whereas an immodest fairest and most incisive critic because the colleague
self-confidence resulted in a loss of proportion and, would be blinded by his own hostility, preventing
with it, the neglect of opportunities to learn. This is him from seeing the man in a just manner. In the
same way, a faithful, obedient priest could give a
from his essay “A Defence of Humility”:
far more comprehensive and reasonable critique of
the church than a celebrated university professor
Whatever virtues a triumphant egoism really
who hated religion. Love is not blind, love is almost
leads to, no one can reasonably pretend that
preternaturally perceptive, and anyone who seeks
it leads to knowledge. Turning a beggar from
knowledge will discover that fostering a loving
the door may be right enough, but pretending
heart is one way to avoid having a distorted mind.
to know all the stories the beggar might have
Another common cause of a distorted mind is
narrated is pure nonsense; and this is practically
following intellectual fashion, in our day a strange
the claim of the egoism which thinks that selffashion that has little true love for man: it exalts man’s
assertion can obtain knowledge. A beetle may
intellect but denigrates man’s meaning. Chesterton
or may not be inferior to a man—the matter
saw that love for truth and love for man were two
awaits demonstration; but if he were inferior
keys to avoiding seductive theories which have the
by ten thousand fathoms, the fact remains that
T
C
Quadrant April 2015
77
love and humility
the follyasofepistemological
Insurrection virtues
attractions of novelty but are inconsistent with their
own premises or with common experience:
Those who leave the tradition of truth do
not escape into something which we call
Freedom. They only escape into something else,
which we call Fashion … If we wish to test
rationally the case of rationalism, we should
follow the career of the sceptic and ask how
far he remained sceptical about the idols or
ideals of the world into which he went. There
are very few sceptics in history who cannot
be proved to have been instantly swallowed
by some swollen convention or some hungry
humbug of the hour, so that all their utterances
about contemporary things now look almost
pathetically contemporary.
There are many intelligent people who are
thorough in their scepticism of Christianity, for
instance, yet fulsome in their faith in the wisdom
and power of the state to legislate and engineer
human attitudes and behaviour because the state
knows best, or who believe that material resources
will remedy spiritual deficiencies, to name two
swollen conventions and hungry humbugs of our
hour.
C
hesterton loved both humanity and knowledge, so he pinpointed the absurdities that lay
within the philosophies that sought to rob people of
freedom, reason and spirit: determinism, nihilism
and materialism. These, he said, were thoughts that
would end all thought and were therefore unworthy of man because, whatever man may say about
himself, his actions and daily conversation confirm
that he sees himself as a responsible being who seeks
to make meaningful decisions. Chesterton’s criticisms were simple but profound: he saw that there
was no point making any statement, or conducting
any research, or undertaking any program for social
improvement if man did not possess free will; these
and any other edifying gestures were futile if determinism was true. And there was no point saying that
man had to evolve beyond good and evil if nihilism
was true: there was no basis for saying man had to
do anything, nor was there any “beyond”, “good” or
“evil”; they were comparatives that lacked a superlative. Likewise, if materialism were true then there
was no basis, consistent with materialism, to insist
on any truth if it could not be freely examined and
verified by man’s mind.
78
These discredited notions persist because each
new generation discovers the cast-offs of previous
generations and embraces them as fresh thoughts.
Chesterton did not find it incredible that selfcontradictory ideas are recycled, re-labelled, and
attract plenty of adherents. He observed, “A new
philosophy generally means the praise of some old
vice.” He elaborated on this point:
You can find all the new ideas in the old books;
only there you will find them balanced, kept
in their place, and sometimes contradicted and
overcome by other and better ideas. The great
writers did not neglect a fad because they had
not thought of it, but because they had thought
of it and of all the answers to it as well.
What the old writers had—certainly writers
like Dante, Shakespeare, Pascal, Burke, Turgenev
and Dostoevsky—was knowledge of what most
contemporary writers exhibit little idea of: first prin­
ciples, metaphysics. This scorn for first principles is
partly why contemporary writers have such scorn for
mankind: not understanding the basis of their own
philosophy, they can’t understand any alternative
philosophy either; they have no basis for patience
with the perspective of those who disagree with
them. It’s no surprise that misrepresentation, slur
and execration become substitutes for rational
argumentation. Chesterton saw this trend, and the
cruel spite in public debate it would unleash:
The redemption of reason in this modern age
presents many difficulties, mainly because men
have abandoned their belief in first principles.
Not having principles on which to agree at
the outset, our men of letters lack a common
ground for argument. And so, in our popular
controversies and debates we find instead of
calm, logical thought, merely abuse and ridicule
and unreason.
Chesterton’s love for reason and love for mankind
led him to reject the fashionable philosophies
of his day; however, these exact philosophies,
their nakedness covered with the rags of renewed
insistence, are prevalent today, indicating that there
are still many people whose love for both knowledge
and mankind has, somehow, been compromised.
Gary Furnell, who lives in rural New South Wales, is
a frequent contributor of fiction and non-fiction prose.
Quadrant April 2015
The Fish Pond
(Visiting the Little Sisters of the Poor, Mount St Joseph, Randwick, 1960s)
There was our weatherboard church, suburban, Protestant and insignificant
and that massif of brick on brick on sandstone foundations;
the contrast between a light, flimsy, almost vaporous, among the pews
(how vulnerable, how easily ignored, among lawnmowers triumphant)
and as it was, captured there, dark honey on brown lino floors,
wide as acres. Deep as the rubbed varnish of centuries, faith-polished.
And a gleam off wood when mid-afternoon, sunlight slipped through
or lustrous, sliding around the marble columns like languor.
To enter needed girding. This was duty. Every Sunday.
Inside, the days of the week were politely but firmly immured.
And no diplomacy would achieve their release.
An ambulance siren, a screech of brakes so stark
as if silence served to teach how other the world outside was
—its windy carelessness, the random selfishness of life,
in short, its sin, beyond those penitentiary defences.
But to us this was foreign, a fortress, Roman Catholic,
implacably cold, scary with the possibility
this was how God’s promises would turn out.
Unsettling most was not the anonymity of the ever-gliding nuns,
the apartheid of their habit, the face shorn of adornment, rarefied to care:
no, worse: the statues of those in anguish, suffering forever
for the faith. St Sebastian, his arrow-pierced flesh,
at his feet dogs adoringly licking the pork-white wounds;
worst though: braving the weather, a bit like an exhibitionist,
a stoic Christ baring the garish blue and red and pumping, bleeding heart,
blood vessels like tentacles, plump with his sacrifice
while his mother, sickly-blue, looked from across the garden, helpless in her pathos.
For we children this was too much:
avoiding the following eyes, their quiet hunger,
we escaped to the tidy gardens—a green pond
with pale carp and their bloodless gaze,
listlessly in motion.
A flick and a slip, a glide,
they, unperturbed, endlessly circling their days.
Quadrant April 2015
Russell Erwin
79
L aur ie H ergenh a n
Uncrowded Thoughts
at Gallipoli
T
he best way to experience the site of
Gallipoli is to visit it independently, not as
part of an organised tour or on a commemorative occasion. Or so I decided after a trip there
some years ago.
My daughter and I were staying in Istanbul at
a little hotel near the Blue Mosque. She wanted to
visit, because she had been moved by Peter Weir’s
film, but a day tour by tourist bus sounded a rushed
and exhausting prospect. However, a helpful hotel
desk clerk suggested we travel by ordinary bus
and stay overnight at the little fishing village of
Gelibolu, not far from the battle field, and on the
same side of the Dardanelles.
Tourists generally go to Canakkale, near the
remains of Troy, on the other side of the Straits,
and tour Gallipoli from there. Our overnight
accommodation was readily booked in off-season,
but the availability of a guide was uncertain.
Transport could be arranged, the hotel said, but
we might have to rely on a tape-recording, not a
personal guide. We took the chance.
Buses in Turkey, once alarmingly dangerous,
as described in Orhan Pamuk’s novel A New Life,
proved comfortable. During the trip of some four
hours, with one brief stop, we were served a soft
drink and an attendant came around to dispense
eau de cologne on the hands as a refresher—not to
everyone’s taste, but a hospitable gesture.
Our hotel was situated on the shore of the
Dardanelles and next morning we watched the sun
rise over Asia, or the Levant. At a simple breakfast, bread and cheese with tea, we met our only
companions, two young New Zealand backpacker
couples in their mid-twenties. Unexpectedly they
were unfriendly, even surly, brushing aside the
complimentary hotel breakfast. During the trip by
mini-van they kept their distance, showing great
interest in talking to our guide (who turned out to
be available) about points of New Zealand association, but paying little attention to other spots.
So much, I thought, for the Anzac spirit on this
occasion.
80
I
found that I became more interested in the physical scene as it unfolded, not in military details.
When we reached the Gallipoli site what
impressed me was that it was so quiet and out of
the way. It was mid-week and late autumn so this
probably accounted for there being few tour buses
or tourists. Nevertheless, Gallipoli is not on the
way to anywhere notable, and though it is increasingly on the tourist trail for Australians it is not a
major attraction on the Turkish scene which offers
so many ancient sites, such as the nearby remains
of Troy. At the time of my visit not a great deal
had been done to provide facilities and roads to cope
with the sporadic Australian interest, especially the
annual commemorations.
The main physical feature of the terrain, known
in advance if one has been exposed to a minimum
of reading, is the heights overlooking the Aegean
Sea. The scale however is unexpected. The famous
“beach” is not the sort of broad sand-strip that we
are used to in Australia, but rather a narrow strip
of shingle at the foot of extremely steep hills, occasionally precipitous, yet not at all like the sandstone
walls, often rock-sheer, which fringe much of the
eastern Australian coast, as around Sydney Heads.
(The shingle strip contrasts with the wide, sandy
Normandy beaches.)
The Gallipoli heights are composed of sandy soil,
not rock. This is why Anzacs burrowed into them,
building a network of trenches, as on the Western
Front. The margin of the shore is so narrow that
landing jetties had to be built on piers, now vanished. We did much of our surveying of the scene
from the heights, which provide a panoramic view.
Only a narrow road skirted the shore at the time of
our visit.
Gallipoli is the general name for the war sites, now
a national park, at the southern end of the lengthy
peninsula, which hangs pendulously south-west,
stretching from Turkish Thrace in Eastern Europe
to the Dardanelles, where Asia “begins”. The whole
peninsula, comprising a huge area, is itself a national
park with no built-up areas save for a regional centre
Quadrant April 2015
Uncrowded Thoughts at Gallipoli
(Eceabat) and eight dispersed villages dependent on
fishing, agriculture and forestry. Inter-connecting
roads are few, hindered by spiny hills and deep
ravines of what is virtually a waste land. Travellers
by car from western Turkey to Eastern Europe travel
via Istanbul and the Bosphorus bridges.
While there are in all some twenty-six cemeteries at Gallipoli, which may sound a lot, they are
dispersed, generally small, and unobtrusive, unlike
many counterparts on the battlefields of France,
with their mass, well-kept graves. What public
monuments there are at Gallipoli are also few and
not encroaching or imposing. Reconstruction of the
battle scenes is non-existent, except for a few mock
trenches, mere gestures, on the heights.
Long since stripped of its primeval forests, the
peninsula is covered by what looks like scrubland
with stunted bushes called “garrigue”, a “type of
low, soft-leaved scrubland ecoregion and plant community … found on limestone soils around the
Mediterranean basin, generally near the sea coast,
where the climate is ameliorated, but where annual
summer drought conditions obtain” (Wikipedia).
The scrubland includes occasional and appropriate
wild rosemary. What trees exist at the Gallipoli site
are mainly pines, not tall, and dotted around or in
small clumps rather than in substantial groups or forest. Accordingly, the view inland rather than out to
sea is of an uninhabited, semi-wild area which may
strike some Australians as a familiar arid area—no
rolling meadows here, no quaint European villages,
and no poppies.
As I stood there on the Gallipoli heights on that
grey day, gazing out at the Aegean Sea, with the
Mediterranean beyond it, I recalled the conclusion
of Wuthering Heights, which a mentor at Sydney
University had called the most perfect sentence in
English literature:
I lingered round them, under that benign sky;
watched the moths fluttering among the heath
and harebells; listened to the soft wind breathing
through the grass; and wondered how any one
could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the
sleepers in that quiet earth.
Here the narrator, Lockwood, visitor from “civilised” London to the wild Yorkshire moors, enters a
country graveyard, marvelling at its sense of wondrous peace, years after the deaths of Cathy and
Heathcliff, whose destructive passions have ravaged
their lives and those of their families.
At Gallipoli I felt a sense of peace more palpable than that invoked in the well-worn words of the
many Gallipoli memorials and commemorations in
Australia. The peacefulness was heightened here by
the atmosphere of the scrubby, undeveloped landscape, similar in spirit if not in physical detail to
Emily Bronte’s moors, and looking much the same
as it had done for a hundred, indeed hundreds of
years.
Laurie Hergenhan is emeritus professor of English,
University of Queensland. He recommends this article:
“Military Geography: The Influence of Terrain on
the Outcome of the Gallipoli Campaign, 1915” by
Peter Doyle and Matthew R. Bennett, Geographical
Journal, vol. 165, No. 1 (March 1999), pp. 12–36.
Tired Wings
With the first turn of the ceiling-fan
winter’s quietest thoughts
were thrown from the blades,
as though the history of a season
might be deciduous.
Each wisp, not inelegant in its fall,
sank like pigment through water,
like hope in the face of truth,
and settled like tired wings on the bed,
unable to fly away.
Kristen Roberts
Quadrant April 2015
81
B.J. C om a n
Smelling a Rat
The Mysterious Giant Rodents of the Mallee
A
s a young biologist, I began my career
studying a variety of pest animals, most of
which had, wittingly or unwittingly, been
introduced into Australia. I began with foxes and
wild dogs, later moving down the scale (in size, but
not in significance) to rabbits and plague mice. In
the course of my investigations, I had cause to work
with scientists from the various states as well as
from the CSIRO. As you might imagine, ours was
a rather small and close-knit circle. We got to know
each other fairly well. There were specialised “Pest
Control Conferences” held every three years, as well
as an Australian Wildlife Management Society,
which held annual conferences. Joint projects were
not uncommon and, in the case of plague mouse
research, the Australian Wheat Board funded coordinated studies in the drier grain-growing areas
of all those states which had a significant mouse
problem in plague years.
And so it was that I became involved in a joint
study on the population biology of mice. We had
a site in the Victorian Mallee, centred on a little
town called Walpeup. At national and international
conferences we were invariably asked, “Where the
hell is Walpeup?” To this we had an unvarying
reply: “Halfway between Galah and Torrita.” This
research was part of a large project, involving the
CSIRO and three of the grain-growing states. We
were, all of us, young, fairly enthusiastic, and as
you might expect not averse to a bit of mild ribbing
amongst ourselves. Occasionally, there might be a
mild practical joke and I have to confess to setting
up a few myself. It was only a matter of time before
my rather poor attempts provoked a retaliation, the
substance of which I will now relate.
There arrived in my office one morning a small
brown paper parcel, tied with thick, hairy string of
a sort rarely seen nowadays except in the bush. It
was addressed in a neat hand and bore a postmark
from the Patchewollock Post Office. On removing
the wrapping I found, on top of the box, a note
written in the same neat hand. The box itself, of
82
oil-impregnated cardboard, was of a size and shape
which might suggest that it originally contained
shearing combs or cutters. Inside, lying on crumpled toilet paper, were a number of pale ovoid pellets, each about the size of a sparrow’s egg. They
were of a fibrous consistency and very tough. With
difficulty, I managed to tease out a few strands and
look at them under a microscope. They resembled
nothing I had seen before, despite years of peering
down a microscope at all sorts of things from fox
faeces to tapeworms and animal hairs. To this day,
I have no idea what the hell they were.
And now to the letter, written by the lady of
the house:
Dear Mr Coman,
We have heard that you are doing research
on giant rats in the Mallee and I thought I
would write to you as we have recently had an
invasion of giant rats in our house. Although
we got rid of them with Ratsak, they made an
awful mess in my linen cupboard where they
made their nest. We did not find any bodies,
but enclosed are some of the droppings left on
my sheets. I thought these might be useful in
your study.
Yours sincerely
(Mrs) P. Long
Of course, I immediately suspected a practical joke and like the Tar Baby in Uncle Remus, I
decided the best course was “don’t say nuthin”. The
incident was quickly forgotten and we pressed on
with the more mundane matters of gathering and
analysing our data.
About a month later, I received a second small
parcel, also with a note. This was another correspondent from Baring (near Patchewollock). The
parcel contained a large chisel-shaped tooth, large
enough, I should have thought, to come from a
beaver. The correspondent (male this time, writing in a distinctly agricultural style) informed me
Quadrant April 2015
Smelling a Rat
that he had shot a giant rat some time ago “in the and pathologists for histological examinations, and
bush near home” and later had extracted two teeth I very much doubt that a Mallee cocky would have
from the skeletal remains as proof of the size of the such stuff in his shed. Further south, he might have
beast. Some measurements of the carcase followed formalin, but this was not footrot country (forma(in feet and inches) plus a description of the tail— lin being the universal treatment for footrot in
hairless and “sort of flattened at the end”. Again, I those days).
determined not to give these hoaxers the satisfacIt was time to consult the books. Taking
tion of a reply. In any case, I knew that any letter down a copy of Ellis Troughton’s Furred Animals
of reply would be returned with a polite note from of Australia, I leafed through, looking for possithe Patchewollock Post Office—“not known at this ble candidates.* After some searching, I found a
address”.
match. This was one of the giant rats of Cape York,
There followed, a month or so later, yet another probably Uromys caudimaculatus or Melomys capenhandwritten letter from one “Barry Richards”, sis (taxonomists continue to quarrel over species
RMB Patchewollock. There was
names). A note on Uromys from the
a certain urgency in the message.
Australian Museum’s Complete Book
Barry needed my advice on ridding
of Australian Mammals tells me
short note
his property of “bloody big mice”.
that this rat is a nuisance species:
accompanied the
“These,” he said, “are causing a fair
“With its formidable incisors it is
bit of trouble with the Missus in
able
to open cans of food and some
specimen, along
the house.” There were also hordes
who have suffered from the deprethese lines: “At last dations of this rodent swear that
of them in his woolshed.
the Missus and I
By this time, I had decided to
it is able to read labels!” Clearly,
open a new file, tabbed “giant rats”.
this specimen was a long way from
managed to trap
I have the contents in front of me
home. I had foiled their little plot,
one of these buggers whoever “they” were. And, indeed,
as I write this account.
this was a bit of a problem. None
in a rabbit trap
fter a somewhat longer gap—
of my research colleagues worked
set in the kitchen
perhaps a couple of months—
in the far north, so this had to be a
yet another parcel arrived from the
specimen collected for a museum or
cupboard. Can
bush. This was much larger, a shoeother study collection. At CSIRO,
you tell us what
box, perhaps. Again the rudelythe famous John Calaby, perpoison to use?”
formed handwriting, but this
haps Australia’s greatest mammal
time the parcel was posted from
expert, would have this specimen
Manangatang, another Mallee
in his lab. But I had only met John
town, not far away. Inside was the preserved car- once or twice and he had no reason to pull a stunt
case of a truly enormous rat, about the size of a like this. Perhaps someone had persuaded him to
ring-tailed possum. A short note accompanied the give up a specimen? Maybe a swap was arranged?
specimen (I have lost it) along these lines: “At last Who knows?
the Missus and I managed to trap one of these bughere, as I thought, the matter finished. But I
gers in a rabbit trap set in the kitchen cupboard.
had underestimated the tenacity and evil genCan you tell us what poison to use?”
By this time, my research colleague was vis- ius of these perpetrators (for I had decided that
ibly excited. “It has to be a new species,” he said. this was probably a co-operative effort, involving at
“There’s no rat that big recorded for the Mallee.” least two people). About a week after I received the
He had a point. All of our native rats in Victoria giant rat, an airmail letter arrived on my desk. This
are smallish creatures, no bigger than a European was no missive from a Mallee cocky, but a smart,
brown or black rat (both of which we also have). typewritten address on an envelope with the letBut this specimen was at least double the size. Even terhead “Muséum National D’Histoire Naturelle”.
our water rat did not measure up to this beast and, Inside, the paper, bearing the same letterhead, was
in any case, water rats would find it rather hard thin, but expensive looking. As I hold it up to the
going up Patchewollock way. There is a story of a light now, the watermark OCF Savoyeux is clearly
Patchewollock man who was struck one day on the visible. The correspondent, claiming to be one
forehead by a drop of rain. It took two buckets of Monsieur Petter, got straight down to business:
dust to revive him.
Cher Monsieur Coman,
But then I smelt a faint whiff of Bouins solution.
J’ai appris que vous faites des recherches en
This is a specialised preservative used by biologists
A
A
T
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83
Smelling a Rat
ce moment sur les rats geants de la region
nord-ouest de Victoria, et que vous avez
trouvez une nouvelle espéce. Comme vous
probablement savez, je suis spécialiste des
rongeurs africains et je m’occupe en ce
moment avec les rats géants de l’Afrique et de
l’Amerique du Sud …
and so on.
Having identified his own interest in the giant
rats of Africa and South America, he went on to
suggest the possibility of some joint studies. To further identify his own interests, he had gone to the
trouble of including a reprint of his recent paper,
“Elements d’une Revision des Acomys Africains,
un Sous-Genre Nouveau, Peracomys Petter et
Roche”, 1981. I have this in front of me now and
it’s all perfectly genuine. Acomys and Peracomys are,
indeed, genera or sub-genera of rodents. Mr Petter
did, indeed, deliver this paper at the International
Colloquium on the Ecology and Taxonomy of
African Small Mammals, held in Antwerp (the
Antwerp in Belgium, that is, not the Antwerp in
the Wimmera halfway between Tarranyurk and
Arkona) in 1981.
W
hat could be done? I sat down and composed a short paper titled “Trade and
Communication in Pre-European Australia”. The
gist of this paper was to suggest that the appearance of giant Top End rats in Victoria’s Mallee was
explicable only in terms of relocation via human
hands. My thesis was that the tail of Uromys was
of an ideal size and length for use as a sort of pipecleaner in didgeridoos. Moreover, the naked end
of the tail provided a useful hand grip. You must
imagine that, over time, the instruments would
accumulate a certain amount of dried spittle, deleteriously affecting the tuning. It is easy to imagine
a north-south trading arrangement for such a valuable asset.
The paper went on at some length, quoting evidence from early European explorers, the finding
of Top End boomerangs carved from Mallee Black
Box, and so on. Copies were sent to the three main
84
suspects. No acknowledgments were received.
All of this happened over thirty years ago. Over
that period I have repeatedly interrogated all of the
possible suspects in this business. In every case and
on every occasion, I have been greeted with a blank
look and grave shaking of the head. I will go to
my grave without discovering the identity of the
perpetrators.
So ended the saga of the giant rat. It brings
to mind a curious little aside in Conan Doyle’s
“Adventure of the Sussex Vampire”, when Sherlock
Holmes says to Watson:
Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young
woman, Watson ... It was a ship which is
associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story
for which the world is not yet prepared.
* Note on Ellis Troughton: I had the pleasure of
meeting “Troughtie” on a couple of occasions. He
was a very amiable fellow. The giant rats would
have been familiar to him as he spent a lot of time
collecting specimens in New Guinea, where such
beasts are common.
His favourite story concerns one collection trip
towards the end of his life. He suffered from a bad
heart and could not walk uphill any great distance.
To solve the problem, the natives built a litter and
carried him up some of the steeper climbs. On one
occasion, he met up with an Australian official
“out bush” who inquired about his strange mode
of transport. “It’s the old ticker,” said Troughtie,
“she’s buggered.” After exchanging pleasantries,
they moved on. Soon after, they met a group of
natives coming down the trail. This called for a
smoko stop and a yarn. In the course of the conversation between the two groups of natives (in
pidgin) Troughtie heard the newcomers inquiring
as to what was wrong with the white bloke. “Klok
belong him bugarup pinish,” one of his bearers
replied. Troughtie was very fond of recounting this
story.
B.J. Coman’s next book, Against the Spirit of the Age,
will be published by Connor Court later this year.
Quadrant April 2015
N a na O ller ensh aw
A Different Life
Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship.
Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the
kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.
Although we all prefer to use only the good passport,
sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to
identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.
—Susan Sontag
A
diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer in
February 2013 split my life down the middle, like an axe on wood. The person I was
before that event became a stranger, the person after
a stranger too. For I led a different life.
Disease and the effects of chemotherapy made
me old. I crept, held rails, looked out for toilets and
places to sit down. The couch at home became a
“place of safety”. Each morning I swallowed a clutch
of pills.
Daily activities became almost insurmountable.
Confidence was lost not only in driving but in making tiny decisions—how far to walk, how to use the
computer again, remember a PIN number, search
for food in the cupboard, for glasses, keys, handbag,
without a sense of panic.
Feeling unwell, deeply fatigued and fearful that
I wouldn’t make it, I dreaded supermarket shopping. At least, I told myself, I was out doing something normal. People in the aisles who were “well” I
envied, but came to realise that many had burdens,
health or otherwise, of their own.
Before leaving hospital, my rehabilitation was
planned. A metal portacath, capped with silicone,
was inserted under the skin above the breast. The
bump looked like a pacemaker. A small catheter
from the portacath fed into the blood stream near
the aorta. Chemotherapy and pre-meds for nausea
and allergy were delivered efficiently and painlessly
through this gateway. Uncomfortable, constant
injections were unnecessary. Lasting up to ten years,
portacaths are an example of today’s technology
from which I was lucky to benefit.
Weekly Taxol, Carboplatin and later Avastin
were my only defence against cancer. My oncologist compared them to an industrial cleaner. A blood
sample analysed weekly monitored kidney and liver
function, white and red blood cells, haemoglobin
and platelet levels. Due to chemotherapy’s toxic
assault some of my results often fell outside the normal range.
The eight-weekly Ca 125 blood test indicates the
amount of cancer present in the body. Below 30 it
is no longer detectable. Over eighteen months my
level fell from over 2000 to 33. With this encouraging result the drugs were reduced from weekly to
fortnightly infusions.
The saying, “The cure is worse than the disease”, is
not fanciful. Side effects of chemo include an intense
tiredness exponentially more severe than ordinary
fatigue. I wake up drained. Energy and motivation
do not exist. Food and rest give minimal respite.
Chemotherapy numbs the nerves in feet and
hands, a condition called “neuropathy”. The hands
merely tingle but the feet are “made of clay”. They
are not my feet. I stump. But they are not painful
and I can walk.
Anxiety is a disease in itself. Uncertainty and
threat engender negative thoughts. What if I die?
How long will it take? How can I cause my family so
much dislocation and pain? I bargain for time. Give
me ten years. I am hypersensitive and reluctantly
attracted to every catastrophe in the world. And the
list of disasters is endless.
Some say they welcome the experience cancer has
given them. Never could I say that, though I have
been exposed to new values. Cancer has taught me a
reverence for energy. Energy can be destructive but
is also the source of everything people do, responsible for artistic, scientific, physical, humanitarian
work. Even a nudge of the desire “to do” brings fleeting euphoria. It’s like a small explosion of hope. Or
seeing a light lead out of a cave. I tried to put this
into a poem about fatigue:
Wanting to Do
is a memory
whose ghost returns
when a tiny chore,
Quadrant April 2015
85
a different life
addiction, his lying and bullying, he established the
Lance Armstrong Foundation to assist people with
cancer. He always had time for them because “he
had been there”. He must have engendered hope by
example and by what he managed to do afterwards.
Most people would be content with much less!
He says, in his book Every Second Counts:
a “doing” which she’s eager for
suggests itself:
fold clothes, put knives and forks away,
wipe table down.
Small acts of tidiness
give pleasure
in a body’s short-lived willingness,
return her to normality
or its pretence.
When she compares this energy
if so it can be called,
to what it used to be
she stands appalled.
I also learned the importance of “getting outside”
to the sky and trees. It’s an escape from the toofamiliar indoors. It brightens and opens the mind.
Hopeful thoughts arise. I make plans for tomorrow.
Peace of mind is a new priority, that “still small
space” we are supposed to hold within us. For the
mind can hold a person hostage. Some find peace in
meditation. I walk, swim, cycle, write, join friends,
cultivate an inner life, talk to myself. The strong me
counsels the weak me. I know myself, can say anything, and I’m always there.
I valued friends before but never so much as now.
Shakespeare knew their value: “Grapple them to thy
soul with hoops of steel.” Their presence comforts.
They remove me from myself, the pettiness of illness. It need not be an elevated “other world” they
take me to. There is pleasure and forgetfulness in
everyday chat. What is said takes on an unexpected
importance.
H
ow do I manage “a different life”? I try to listen and to think about other lives. Our children make my world a better place. Occasionally I
take valium, and regularly an anti-depressant. Lying
against my husband’s warm back, he has become
“my sleeping pill”. Old memories return. I read,
reread and write down the sayings of others:
“Your emotions are just emotions. They are not
you ... you have a much deeper self than the bioelectric switchboard in your head.” (Phillip Hulme)
“A light heart is a wonderful armoury for living.”
(Nikki Gemmell)
“Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by
walking.” (Antonio Machado)
Lance Armstrong managed his “terminal” cancer
in his own spectacular way. It had spread throughout
his body. He recovered and won the Tour de France
five times, to prove, he stated, “to what extent cancer can be beaten”. Despite his drug dealing and
86
You can alter any experience with your mind ...
it’s up to you to determine what the quality of
each moment is ...
What surviving cancer teaches you is the
magnitude of your dependence on others, not
just for self-definition, but for your existence ...
The only things I can’t afford to lose are my
life, and the lives of those I love ...
The other side of Fear is Courage. A Vietnam
veteran, John Glennon, in “This (Courageous) Life”
in the Weekend Australian describes courage in a
metaphoric way:
Courage lives in a small glass bottle. We all have
one. No one knows when it will run out—or
why—but it is finite. If you are lucky, you will
never have to reach into the bottle and find it
empty ... Those who have had to look into their
bottles too many times will never judge someone
whose courage has simply run out.
I know I am not alone when everyone, even the
unborn baby, must one day die. But we go through
death separately, by ourselves.
Clive James, struggling with emphysema and
cancer, too weak to fly home to Australia, remains
productive and engaged as a writer, scholar and
speaker. His last goal is to write “the perfect poem”.
That gentle wordsmith stated he was not afraid of
death. He had had a most fulfilling and fortunate
life and to complain would be bad manners.
Nor can I complain of a “different life”. It may
change again. It is a life. And I am in love with living. As Robert Frost wrote in his poem “Birches”,
where he didn’t want the trees to fling him into
Heaven: “Earth’s the right place for love: I don’t
know where it’s likely to go better.”
Susan Sontag wanted to live life twice as energetically as most people. For her, “stillness was mortality”. Who would not want to claim citizenship
and use of only their good passport?
Or have it returned.
Nana Ollerenshaw is a poet who lives in Queensland.
Quadrant April 2015
N eil M c D ona ld
Full-Blown Romanticism
and Delicate Irony
M
ax Ophuls was among the most interesting of the famous directors in French and
German cinema who were forced to flee
to America by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s.
Unlike many of his compatriots, he created at least
one masterpiece in Hollywood and five years later
made a related but even greater work in France—
the famous The Earrings of Madame De ... The
American film was Letter from an Unknown Woman
(1948).
How it came to be made was related in an article
by its scriptwriter, Howard Koch, for a collection
of interviews, reminiscences and commentary on
screenwriting edited by Richard Corliss and published as The Hollywood Screenwriters in 1972. At
the time Corliss was mounting a challenge to the
auteur theory as expounded by Andrew Sarris in
his ground-breaking American Cinema Directors and
Directions 1929–1968. Sarris had adapted the politique des auteurs of French criticism to American
film. He had created a pantheon of directors such
as Charles Chaplin, Orson Welles and Ophuls to
demonstrate that the main force in the creation
of any film had to be the director. The theory, as
Sarris was to admit later, was deliberately polemical
and by the 1970s was being challenged by, among
others, one of his own students—Richard Corliss!
He was making the same kind of claim for writers
as Sarris was for directors, and Koch’s memories
of Ophuls seemed to provide an excellent test case.
Howard Koch, however, proved to be wonderfully
even-handed. Still he began by taking a sideswipe
at the simplifications of some of the French critics:
In recent years I’ve read with some
bewilderment statements of French film
directors such as Truffaut, identifying their
methods with those of Max Ophuls, whom they
regard as a sort of mentor and precursor of the
New Wave. These directors are among the chief
exponents of the auteur theory … which holds
the director “authors” a film on the set and later
in the cutting rooms with some small assist
from a “dialogue writer”.
According to Koch, the creation of Letter from
an Unknown Woman could not have been more
different. The story was brought to him by John
Houseman, an old friend from their time together
with Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater on the Air.
(Koch had scripted the famous War of the Worlds
broadcast and Houseman had been co-producer.)
Houseman wanted Koch to dramatise a novella
by Stefan Zweig for a film in which Joan Fontaine
would play the lead. One of the major stars of the
period, she had formed her own company within
Universal Pictures and had hired Houseman to
produce.
The novella, or long short story, was in the form
of a letter from the unnamed unknown woman of
the title. It had been published in 1922 when Zweig
was one of the most famous writers in the world.
In 1947 he was still remembered, but as a Jewish
anti-Nazi who had committed suicide with his
wife five years earlier in despair at what seemed
to them the impending destruction of Western
civilisation. Zweig had always been a depressive
and this shows in the morbidly romantic style of
the short story. The “letter” is to a bon vivant author
from a woman who had been in love with him since
she was a young girl. They have one brief affair and
she bears him a child. She keeps this from him
and supports the boy by working as a courtesan.
The anonymous lady admits to being very beautiful
and by now the reader can’t escape feeling she is
a confirmed emotional masochist: she gets what
she deserves, or perhaps wants. There is a further
meeting when the writer picks her up—she makes
it very easy. Not recalling their previous meeting,
at the end of the encounter he slips “two banknotes
of high denomination” into her muff. The unknown
woman decides not to reveal herself. The letter is
written as a last farewell after their son has died
of influenza and she is beginning to experience
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Full-Blown Romanticism and Delicate Irony
the same symptoms. The year of publication, 1922,
The final sequences when the woman realises
coincided with the devastating post-war influenza that she really is unknown to her would-be lover
epidemic.
are a masterpiece of restrained screen acting from
Koch had his doubts about the story but allowed both performers. Stefan does not remember her
himself to be persuaded; then he suggested his and, oblivious to her anguish, elegantly sets about
friend Max Ophuls as director. Houseman was an the seduction of yet another beautiful woman.
admirer of Ophuls’s much-admired pre-war film Ophuls builds the scene around a series of close
Liebelei, and with a great deal of effort he per- shots of Fontaine as she registers the character’s
suaded the studio that Ophuls was right for the devastation.
project. It was one of those happy series of acciThe novella ends with the writer “breaking
dents that occurred more often than is realised in inside” but still only half-remembering his lover.
the studio era.
For the film Koch and Ophuls devised a full-scale
Koch does not tell the full story of the making of tragic ending. The letter is handed to Stefan as he
the film. Indeed his article would have benefited if returns to his apartment after being challenged
he had first been closely questioned by someone like to a duel from which he intends to flee. As in the
Peter Bogdanovich who might have evoked further novella, what follows is an extended flashback conmemories. But Koch does do justice to Ophuls’s cluding with a note confirming the death of the
role as director. Far from relying on
unknown woman. In yet another
inspiration during the shooting, he
irony the memories of the lost love
was painstaking about the creation
now
come to him portrayed in a
tefan’s shallow
of the screenplay. One delightful
tightly edited montage of images
charm, as played
scene was Ophuls’s own invention.
from their brief time together. The
by Louis Jourdan, seconds arrive for the duel and he
It shows the unknown woman and
Stefan, her lover, dancing alone in
decides to accept the challenge.
is appealing, and
a deserted ballroom accompanied
Koch and Ophuls
rom Koch’s account this richly
by an all-woman orchestra. The
textured
narrative was creinspiration came from research into
added moments of
ated through a series of interaclate-nineteenth-century Vienna.
vulnerability and
tions between Ophuls, Koch, and
Early in the production Ophuls
a
talented cast. They clearly both
had decided to place the action
despair that the
respected and enhanced Stefan
thirty years earlier than Zweig had
actor plays with
Zweig’s original. Having the lover
in the novella.
great subtlety.
as a musician allows for the comOphuls also transformed the
poser of the film score, Daniele
writer into a concert pianist. A cliAmfitheatrof, to interweave themes
ché of romantic cinema certainly,
but it enables the film to give a fuller portrait of the from Liszt, Schubert and Mozart. It may not be
woman’s “lover”. She hears his music as a girl when particularly original but it serves the drama well.
The visual style is certainly characteristic of
he practises in the upstairs apartment in the building where she lives with her mother, thus drawing Ophuls but the Austrian cinematographer Franz
her into his world. Later Koch and Ophuls have Planer was probably responsible for the deeply
the heroine comment knowledgably on Stefan’s shadowed expressionist lighting of the rainplaying, and he exclaims, “Where have you been washed streets and the darkened stairwell leadhiding—in my piano?” There is a double irony; she ing to Stefan’s apartment. Ophuls’s famous use of
may be obsessed by the musician but he needs her elaborate tracking or dolly shots was not unique
in 1940s Hollywood. John Farrow, best known for
more than he realises.
In the novella the device of having the main nar- his action adventures, would include at least one
rative in the form of a letter acts as a straitjacket. extended sequence in each of his movies where the
The reader has no idea what the unknown woman camera tracked or dollied to cover the action in a
sees in the writer. In the film the attachment is all single take. Ophuls avoided any virtuoso display.
too believable. Stefan’s shallow charm, as played by The moving camera would be used to place his
Louis Jourdan, is appealing, and Koch and Ophuls characters in their world. His images liberate the
added moments of vulnerability and despair that eyes of the viewers so they can see, for example,
the actor plays with great subtlety. The character the life of a garrison town as Fontaine’s character
may be shallow but he knows it and is powerless to walks to join her parents, revealing why she might
change. Fontaine gets the adolescent girl just about want to escape from this world through her romantic adventure. As well the camera seems to crane
right and is heart-breaking as the woman in love.
S
F
88
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Full-Blown Romanticism and Delicate Irony
over her shoulder as the girl watches Stefan bring
his romantic conquest up the stairs for the night.
The shot is duplicated when he brings the unknown
woman back for one of their few nights of love.
Is this stylish work of late-1940s Hollywood
relevant now or sentimental nostalgia? For me it
is both. Letter from an Unknown Woman embodies
a full-blown romanticism that remains appealing,
as the popularity of the excellent DVD release
shows. But the emotions and the tragedy—Stefan’s
carelessness and sexual indulgence, the woman’s
slightly absurd ardour—are only too real and
moving. The film’s delicate ironies are at once
aesthetically satisfying and, as the full tragedy
unfolds, cathartic. Fortunately there was more
to come from Max Ophuls both in America and
Europe which, as they are released to DVD, I hope
to make the subject of another article.
B
y a sad irony, as I was researching this piece
the news came of the death of Louis Jourdan
at ninety-three. Last year we lost his co-star Joan
Fontaine. Postings on the internet warmly remember them both. In 2010 a frail, dignified Jourdan
was awarded the Legion of Honour.
As can be seen in Letter to an Unknown Woman
there was more to the actor than a dashing screen
presence. His elegant boulevardier in Vincente
Minnelli’s Gigi is always believable, as is his tragic
French aristocrat in the British period drama
Dangerous Exile. There was always a sense that even
in his most lightweight roles he had more to offer
than was being asked of him. We can be grateful
to directors such as Ophuls, Minnelli and Alfred
Hitchcock (who used him to great effect in The
Paradine Case), that this fine actor was able at times
to realise his full potential.
Heading Home
Sun’s igniting the last leaves so they flame
then fade quickly as snowflakes.
Sodden fields hold light for longer,
drink it in, so sheep float on dense green light.
This light knows no limit—passing creeks catch it too
turn to beaten glitter, mirror the steel gleam of sky.
On the train we sit, read, talk, eat in a moving,
blinking river of light. Children hold gold light
in their hair, release light with their laughter.
Some crazy Midas can’t help himself—
caresses everything uncontrollably,
so wind is light, trees are light,
the glance from the woman opposite is light.
We’ve caught it somehow from the small dust
on my screen, the spaces between trees—
all of us, heading west into the flame of the sun
dizzy, alive, touched by brief winter light.
Victoria Field
Hide and Seek
Reading old diaries is a risky game.
Who is this person
moving through the words,
often concealed, then bobbing out,
suddenly candid, only to disappear?
Sometimes I recognise myself
like a friendly face
in a big, indifferent crowd
but sometimes
I meet a blank stare
and cannot believe
my eyes.
Quadrant April 2015
Barbara Fisher
89
Story
Love
B r a d J ack el
A
t the edge of the river Jonah and his father Will paused for a moment then
popped up the bolts of their rifles before laying them on the grass and sitting down beside them. The guns were not loaded yet but Will had been
an instructor in the army and was obsessive about it. Always check if it’s
loaded, even if you just did. Never rely on the safety. Never point it at or
near another person, unless you mean to kill them. Keep your finger off the trigger and
lay it along the guard until you mean to shoot. Always break the action before you put
it down. All of this had been drilled into Jonah so many times since the age of five that
he no longer needed to be told.
They removed their boots, stuffed their socks inside the boots and tied the laces
together, then removed their pants and stuffed them into Will’s backpack. Slinging
their boots around their necks, they waded into the river with their rifles held above
their heads. It was not much of a river, a few metres across, but waist deep and clear and
fast over slick rocks. They waded across, close enough to each other to drop the gun in
the water and lend a hand if either lost their footing.
On the other side they sat down and got dressed, drying their feet carefully with a
rag before putting their boots back on. The sun was an hour or so away from rising and
the puffs of vapour as they breathed were barely visible. Jonah shivered a little in the
cold. They would be warm soon enough. Slinging their guns over their shoulders, they
began to climb. The ravine cut by the river was deep and very steep on this side and in
places they could touch the ground in front of their faces as they climbed, not talking
much and only then in mumbled whispers.
The cold of a clear night began to give way to the stinging heat of a clear morning.
Jonah kept having to stop and wait for his father to catch his breath, his legs propped
against the slope, his back against a tree, rifle laid across his knees and a neutral
expression concealing impatience with his father’s pace. Not neutral enough. “I’m an
old man, Jonah,” Will quietly snapped, and Jonah looked at him and realised for the
first time that he really was old and that struggling through a scrubby forest growing
on a slope that was borderline cliff was a fair effort for someone pushing seventy, and
Jonah felt ashamed.
After a couple of hours they got to the top of the ridge and sat down together at
the edge of something that may have once been a vehicle track along the spine of the
ridge and still could be if you were committed enough and not overly worried about
abandoning the vehicle when a rock destroyed the sump. Jonah wondered who had
built it, for what purpose, where it went, where it came from. Especially where it came
from, as it would be fun on a bike, though frightening, with sections so steep you would
have to stand forward with your balls on the petrol tank and head over the bars to stop
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it flipping backwards and then on the way back down no way at all to pull up if you got
the line wrong.
Imagining this track on a bike, Jonah remembered a ride he had been on for a few
days with his brother one time and how they had met up with one of his brother’s
mates, some special ops hitter just back from the desert who had kills up and had
bought himself a shiny new bike with his danger money. His brother warned Jonah
about him. “What do you mean?” Jonah wanted to know. “He’s a bit alpha. Will put
you in your place,” his brother said. And so he did, with his stories of machine gun fire
and ambushes and banging some Dutch bird all night at the FOB then going out the
next morning in the dark in a Black Hawk without sleep running a squad and some
Afghan soldier getting capped right in front of him, brains on the wall, screaming
contact contact contact to his boys and then hours of terror and adrenaline focused
down to small red dots of ultimate violence until there was no one left to spray their
brains on a mud-brick wall. Jonah’s brother said that “I have personally killed three
men and have orchestrated the death of hundreds” was Alpha’s stock line whenever
braced by some muscled fuckwit in a bar and Jonah had to admit that it was a pretty
cool line, a nice way to avoid violence if you could pull it off, which apparently he could
with his suddenly dead eyes and his total indifference to any possible danger posed by
said fuckwit.
They had hit some fire trails for a while then Jonah saw a disused track and headed
in and his brother and Alpha followed and about four hours later they sat at a pub after
Alpha had crashed his bike so many times they had lost count, had thrown his helmet
into the bush, had kicked his bike on the ground, had suffered the indignity of Jonah’s
brother having to ride his bike up one hill for him because he couldn’t make it himself,
with Jonah having to ride it down again because he couldn’t do that either. They sat
on the verandah of the pub in this nameless little town, a handful of houses dropped
like dice in the middle of nowhere, Alpha’s shiny new bike now held together with
duct tape, cable-ties and a length of rope cut from Jonah’s swag and Alpha looked a
bit sheepish because he knew he had cracked when he threw his helmet and he knew
they had seen him without all the bullshit, had seen him weak, and he eased up on all
the stories. He went for a piss and Jonah looked at his brother and said, “Rambo, eh?
We broke him in one afternoon,” and his brother had grinned and said, “Yeah and he
knows it too and I’ll always have it over him,” because he was just a combat engineer
who defused bombs and did not run around assassinating Taliban in the middle of the
night and the commando’s alpha bullshit annoyed him sometimes because defusing
bombs isn’t for pussies and also Jonah’s brother did not like it when his own tactics
of domination were out-gunned by a more impressive set of tales. Alpha came back
from the toilet and Jonah said “Nice bike,” nodding at the exotic European machine
on its kick-stand and Jonah’s brother played along, deadpan, knowing this was going
somewhere because you never let a bloke off the hook when he has lost his front. “Yeah,
was a bit pricey but I’m happy with it, worth the money,” said Alpha and Jonah said, “I
reckon it would be pretty handy when it gets rough too. A piece of shit old Yamaha like
mine will barely stay upright.” Jonah’s brother let out a bark of laughter and Alpha said,
“Fuck you,” and sipped his beer.
Will and Jonah sat beside the track now, letting their sweat cool them, passing a
bottle of water then a small cup of coffee from a thermos with some bread and cheese.
“Be good on a bike,” Jonah said, nodding at the track and remembering that ride with
his brother, the thrill of riding with no margin for error, the satisfaction of taking
Alpha down a peg or two and the no-margin-for-error thrill of that too. His father
snorted and said, “Fucking bikes,” because he had never been a big fan in the first place
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and had hated them since Jonah had nearly died on one and the police showed up at
the house and asked Jonah’s parents if they knew Jonah and they said yes and the police
said follow us and then Jonah’s mum saw his smashed helmet and gear in the back of
the cop car and the cops didn’t bother to say he wasn’t dead and his parents thought
they were going to identify a body. Which they nearly were.
Jonah looked at his father’s rifle, a beautiful .270 engraved with his name that he had
been given instead of a gold watch after twenty years at the textile mill. Small calibre
but a big case holding lots of powder—very high velocity, his dad’s favourite. With the
exotic boat-tailed hollow-points he loaded it with it was lethal regardless of where you
hit. Get shot in the shoulder with this it’s not like the movies where you say something
heroic and tie a rag around it and keep going, you’ve got an exit hole the size of a fist
in your back and so much hydraulic shock you’re knocked out with concussion and
probably brain damage and a bruised heart and collapsed lungs. Will had gone down
to a .223 for a while for spotlighting roos on the farm, much cheaper per shot but it was
not deadly enough and Will did not like the idea of a roo jumping around in the forest
with a bullet in it for a week before it died of infection. Even if you missed a bit because
the ute twitched at the wrong time you didn’t really miss when you hit it with the .270
and this was as it should be. There was no good in just wounding an animal. So he had
gone back to the .270 even though it cost him a few bucks per shot, no small thing when
you are knocking over thirty or so roos in a night when their population exploded as it
did from time to time because of all the new grassland since settlement.
They were looking for a samba stag Will reckoned was up here somewhere because
he claimed to have seen sign, fresh antler scratches up a tree. Deer had been introduced
by someone for some reason long forgotten and they ran wild through the high country
and had adapted to it well, but not so well they became pests and had to be slaughtered
from choppers like in New Zealand. They were hunted now for sport and sustenance
and Will knew blokes up here who ate nothing else, not being able to afford lamb or
beef on a regular basis, one decent beast in the freezer feeding a family for months.
Sometimes they were hunted for profit as well, sold cheap on the sly to canny Melbourne
butchers who moved it on as farmed venison to high-end restaurants where architects
and lawyers ate it with relish because it was lean and gamy and good for the heart and
because it went so well with shiraz.
They finished their snack and crossed the track and began to descend through ugly
dry scrub. There were no wild romantic views here, no glossy photos of this country in
tourism campaigns or outdoorsy magazines, just hard scrubby forest with no tracks or
tracks that started nowhere, going nowhere, ending nowhere, and if you got it wrong
getting in or out like some English tourist invariably did every year or two, chasing that
glossy image, if you got it wrong then you would find what those who sought a mirage
always found and then you would wander around in circles for a few days and then you
would die.
Now they were really quiet, placing their feet carefully, pausing every few metres to
watch and listen, all communication reduced to pointing, nods. Jonah was not convinced
there were any deer here at all and thought they were probably just walking around all
day in the scrub with guns for no good reason. But then they came to a boggy wide flat
at the bottom of a ravine, a hidden fold on the side of the hill. It was lush and green,
real green, European green, not the silvery grey-green of the scrub that surrounded it,
and you could smell the water and hear it trickling and Jonah thought, yes, if I was a
deer than this would be the place I chose to call home, reminding me somehow of a
memory that wasn’t even mine.
They made their way slowly down to the flat, then slowly across it, silent, pausing
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often to look, alert for movement, then up the wooded hill on the other side where
they sat down in some shade and started to wait. Jonah daydreamed and Will cut some
cheese with his skinning knife then licked a patch on his forearm and shaved the hair
off it with the knife, smiling privately to himself, as keeping his knives sharp enough
to shave with was his particular delight. After a time they ate some sandwiches and
then they kept still and silent and kept watching until Jonah caught a hint of movement
on the slope across from the flat, the slope they had come down, and he touched his
father’s knee and his father followed where his eyes were looking and they both grinned
and raised their guns to their shoulders. His father wrapped his forearm through the
strap of his rifle and pushed his elbow out to tension the strap and keep the gun stable
and Jonah copied him and they raised their scopes to their eyes and only then released
their safeties.
An adult doe and her kid, maybe fifty metres away across the little ravine, at the
same elevation as Jonah and his father and an easy shot to make clean, the deer ambling
along unaware, indecently close in the scopes, pornographically close. Jonah breathed
slow.
His rifle had started life as a German military .308 Will had bought cheap because
he thought the Mauser bolt action the best of all actions. It had been modified up to a
30-06 and had its ugly wooden stock replaced with uglier black polymer. It was not the
dark work of art his father’s .270 was, but he liked it, its practicality that of a battered
four-wheel-drive. Certainly it was up to this shot, but it was his dad’s kill and for Will
to drop a more or less stationary animal the size of pony and so close you could nearly
hit it with a rock was a trivial thing, Jonah having once seen him take out a roo at 150
metres, the roo in full flight across a paddock visibly going slack in mid-air at the apex
of a jump that would have taken it over Jonah’s head. Then hitting the ground, a rag
doll dropped by a brat.
Jonah watched the doe through the scope waiting for his father to take the shot but
it didn’t happen and he looked over at his father and saw that his finger was not on the
trigger but laid aside the guard and he knew it wasn’t going to happen.
He touched Will on the knee again and his father mouthed, “Stag,” without taking
his eye off the scope and Jonah rolled his eyes and shook his head and they watched
the doe and the kid amble along the side of the ravine until they had gone over a little
rise on the edge of it and they were gone and there was no shot left. They waited for a
while. There was no stag.
“For fuck’s sake,” Jonah said, not whispering any more and then directly behind
them they heard a loud clattering like a child running along a broken picket fence with
a stick, the stag’s antlers hitting trees as it realised death was waiting for it in the shade
below and bolted. Jonah leapt to his feet and started to run towards the sound but the
sound got distant fast and he couldn’t see anything for the trees and Will said, “No
chance. We’ve spooked it now,” which was a nice touch, the “we” when he could have
said “you”.
They explored for a while and found the stag’s wallow, weirdly not in the bog below
but on the side of the slope they had been sitting on and Jonah wondered where the
water came from and Will said it was a spring the stag had found.
“Know where he is now, we’ll try again another time,” said Will.
“I still reckon you should have got one of them for meat,” said Jonah, to muddy the
waters a bit regarding it being his fault they missed the stag. His dad said that even
if he wasn’t after the stag then the thought of trying to drag the doe’s carcass back up
to the ridge and then down that fucking cliff was a bit much and besides then her kid
would have died for nothing. His reasons for not bagging the tender-eating kid instead
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were less clear but Jonah reckoned that maybe he couldn’t quite bring himself to drop
the cheerful little thing in all its gangly innocence by its mother’s legs, which annoyed
Jonah a bit because he didn’t want the day to have been for nothing. But he did admit
your heart would have to be made of granite to take that shot.
When they reached the little track on the ridge they sat down for a drink before
starting to descend back down to the river and Jonah said, “Sorry Dad. I fucked up.
Should have kept my mouth shut.”
“Don’t worry about it, love. Was a good day,” Will said. It shocked Jonah a bit,
the use of that word in this context and the tone like you might use with a small boy
but with no condescension at all, still less judgment or superiority, just a father saying
something to a son. It made Jonah feel bad for being so impatient with everything all
the time, so impatient with his father and his family and the town he came from and
he wished he hadn’t put his parents through so much with the accident and the head
injuries and all the drinking and he wished he read less and thought less and did more
and hunted more and was more the kind of man his father wanted in a son and was
maybe in the army.
He never really understood it, what his father had said that day, until many years
later, when he held his mewling daughter in his arms for the first time, the little
creature like a wet rabbit, and hugged her gently to his chest and whispered, “Hello
little creature” and the universe had somehow tilted on its axis and had become a better
place. Then Jonah knew that what he had felt when his father had said that, all his
shame for not being someone else and not quite fitting into that world, all of it had
meant nothing to his father, had meant nothing at all, that what his father had been
hunting for that day wasn’t the stag anyway.
Brad Jackel’s poetry appears in Quadrant from time to time, but this is his first Quadrant story.
He lives in Melbourne.
Advent
I can’t watch the sun going down
as reds and greens and yellows
merge because feelings informal
and formal crowd in and remind me
of who and what I’m missing,
of what can’t be guaranteed,
of what hurts and keeps on hurting
when you’d sooner not know
how much goes down the chute
marked unrequited, the chute in which
pity foments and what’s pitiable
lasts far too long, won’t be forgotten
no matter how much and how often
you wish the sun hadn’t set.
Brian Turner
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From Table Number 9
S imone R ich a r dson
B
rady, we’re told, is a child of great potential. His teachers all acknowledge
this and are quick to point out the things he’s good at. Like handing out
the lunch boxes at break time. Brady is very good at remembering which
lunch box belongs to each child—even though he’s only six. He can be a
handful at times, but that’s boys, isn’t it? Lucy’s mum may not appreciate
the difference between boys and girls, but Brady’s mum can tell her.
“Boys are made to be outside,” she declares. “It’s wrong to shut them up in a
classroom. Girls might be able to cope inside all day, but boys just can’t. At home,
Brady plays outside for an hour and then he’s happy inside with his iPad until dinner.
That’s what they should do at school. Stagger the inside and outside time.”
Cheryl nods. It’s easiest just to agree with Brady’s mum.
“Lucy tells me the class are doing a play of the Three Little Pigs,” she says. “Brady
would make a great big bad wolf.”
“Oh he would!” Brady’s mum says. “The teacher told me he’s been practising the
part in the playground for weeks and can be quite ferocious, but ... I don’t know. One
of the Asian boys will probably be the wolf.”
Every week I sit in this cafe. Brady’s mum is in here regularly, often with Cheryl
and some other school parents. Today there are five at their table. I count them off.
Brady’s mum (I know her best because she speaks loudly and constantly), Cheryl,
Sarah, Riley’s mum and one other in denim shorts and yellow plastic shoes. The topic
is a familiar one: after-school activities. Sarah’s daughter, Lily, is learning the piano
on Tuesdays. Her teacher is excellent—for girls at least! (Brady had a couple of lessons
with her, but it didn’t work out.) Sam, Riley and Lucy have been in swim school
together since they were babies. They are only five but can already swim a whole length
of the pool. Riley’s mum thinks that parental care can be measured in swimming
lesson bills.
“Between the two kids,” she says, “I would’ve spent thousands on swimming
lessons, but so many kids drown. It’s neglect not to teach your kids how to swim. I
don’t understand it.”
I zone out of the school mums’ discussion. There are others in my cafe. I notice a
retired couple having scones and tea. They were here last week as well. In a minute the
woman will leave her husband here with his newspaper while she does the shopping.
It’s a nice arrangement, probably for them both.
A young family have just walked in. They take the corner table near the toy box. I’ve
gotten to know the mother a little over the course of the year. She’s connected with a
church in town and her sister’s kids go to school with mine. She comes in every week
with her three-year-old and baby and a trolley full of shopping. (The little one would
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be ten or eleven months now—just starting to walk. I’ve seen them every week since
the baby was born.) The husband is with them today. He’s a tradesman and must have
had a job on locally. They both look exhausted as they sit there with their coffee and
toasted sandwiches. The mother tries to get the toddler to eat a sandwich but she’s only
interested in the milkshake.
Over at the centre table, a man in an unironed shirt and a badge is talking in a loud
voice with another man. “I’ve been doing this for thirteen years,” he says. “At first,
you’re not gunna be fast—we don’t expect it, but you gotta work hard. It’s hard work.
Not for everyone. We take you on for a few weeks first and see how you go. If it’s not
for you, we tell you. Sometimes you just gotta work a bit longer to get the job done.
Some people don’t like that but it’s how it is. I got a good feeling about you, but.”
I can’t read the logo on his badge but eventually work out that he is some kind of
cleaning contractor. The other man doesn’t look in a position to turn down a job but I
wouldn’t want either of them cleaning my house. Perhaps they contract to businesses.
Two high school girls have just walked in. They are at that age where they clearly
care about their appearances (the attention given to hair, makeup and skirt length tell
me that) but haven’t yet gained the self-control to say no to the supersized strawberry
thickshake or to stop drawing all over their arms in biro. They play at sophistication
sitting in this cafe during school hours, toying with their phones and analysing what
happened in maths class (not the maths). I like them. There’s something delightful
about the leftover childishness of one on the cusp of adulthood. From a distance,
anyway.
My cafe is in a small shopping centre in a newer suburb. It serves very ordinary
coffee and unimaginative food, but the teapots hold three cups of quite nice tea and
there’s a powerpoint next to my table. I come here each week to read and write and
think and listen in to the conversations of other people. There’s never a shortage of
conversations, for it seems that we humans have an inbuilt need to fill the air with
words.
Words.
Today in this cafe, millions of them have been spilt. They are about communication,
information, entertainment but they are so much more than that.
The school mums’ conversation, in its familiarity and monotony, couldn’t possibly
be stimulating to the women (even the gossip they share is dull), yet it clearly serves
some purpose since they are in here every week. Perhaps chattering mutes the
soundtrack of discontent in Riley’s mum’s head. Maybe for Sarah, the familiar content
is a comfortable chair in which she can rest between school drop-off and pick-up.
Perhaps Brady’s mum, with her life so enmeshed with Brady’s, can’t help but talk about
him—in much the same way as the high school girls need to rave to each other about
their latest infatuations.
If the cleaning contractor had only been here for business, he could have wrapped
up the interview in twenty minutes. But he wanted to talk—and there’s no more
captive an audience than someone needing a job.
The only people without much to say are the marrieds. There’s the retired couple
with the husband reading the newspaper—their conversation is minimal—and the
exhausted couple with the little kids. She asks what time he expects to be home that
night and he asks which day next week her mother is arriving. In both cases, the
conversation is limited—perhaps because the older couple have run out of things to say
to each other and the younger couple have run out of energy to say it.
Nevertheless, there’s a harmony in both relationships. The older couple are longtime partners in life and the young couple, for now, are partners in survival. The older
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woman asks if sausages will do for dinner, then leaves to do the shopping. The younger
woman thanks her husband for coming. He kisses her and the girls and returns to
work.
Of all the people in my cafe, I’m the only one here by myself. Perhaps some think
my solitariness strange, but I revel in it. Alone? No. My thoughts are my company, my
tea is my friend and the lives around me are the book that I read. And you, reader, are
the recipient of my conversation.
Ash
Cameron Allan (1955–2013), classically trained composer and musician,
produced the initial recordings of many Australian bands, such as Mental
as Anything and Icehouse, and composed soundtracks for several seminal
Australian films. He migrated to the USA in 1986.
Under the weather, the boat sways.
Your brother holds you for a moment,
then casts you out, all at once,
into the place where your parents
were cast, your parents who are long dead
now. You drift in the cloudlessness,
the gleam, and the sea sorts through you,
disperses you, though something
of a finer dust lifts on the swell.
Your brother has nothing to say.
He scatters into the tide the crushed things
he’s felt for you, that aren’t so easy,
and they dally there, like petals.
There’s a sober quiet, a reckoning.
He recalls how, years before, you talked
of your mentor who came to see
he would never be Stockhausen, who unfastened
his life, drink by drink, until there was only
blood and regret. Of course, he says,
I should have seen what was coming,
meaning you, Cameron, drinking your life
away, you who were not Stockhausen.
But we all know this boat, the thump
of the waves on the wood, the hollow
of the hull, the hold of the sea and the sound
of the gulls, the sounds rearranging
as if by chance, becoming this song
always in our heads, this song of a possible
self. Atonal, perfect, lingering. This lovely, frail song.
John Foulcher
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97
Books
P hilip A y r es
Hasluck Confidential
Paul Hasluck: A Life
by Geoffrey Bolton
University of Western Australia Press, 2014,
575 pages, $49.99
M
ore historian by nature than politician, Paul
Hasluck (1905–1993) detested the culture of
Canberra, and his political advancement was slowed
by a refusal to promote himself, to scheme and lobby
for portfolios or the top job. Though in private he
could be fun-loving, display emotion, be impatient
and lose his temper, to the general public he came
across as humourless and grey. It would have been a
risk for the Liberals to have elected him leader following the death of Harold Holt. Hasluck’s colleagues
at the time asked themselves, “Is he up to handling
Gough Whitlam in the House?” They thought not,
so they chose John Gorton, who had charm, some
charisma and a strong streak of individualism.
Unlike Gorton, Hasluck worked hard, but he
was risk-averse and in many respects an unoriginal
thinker (though highly analytical and perceptive),
never much questioning received dogmas, such as
the “threat” of China, or the domino theory (reunified Vietnam fought its first war against China,
its second against the Khmer Rouge—so much for
the domino theory). Nixon and Kissinger thought
boldly, jettisoning preconceptions when they seemed
constricting or no longer valid. Gorton in his lesser
sphere could do that, Hasluck rarely—he was
too conservative. This comes through strongly in
Geoffrey Bolton’s sympathetic but objective biography. “Paul Hasluck never learned how to be a rebel,”
he writes. “Too early in life he developed a knack
of suppressing his own opinions and doubts in the
interests of loyalty to his seniors.”
His parents were in the Salvation Army, an
unpromising background, and he did revolt against
that: “How I hated the long, hot and oppressive
atmosphere of the meetings,” he recalled.
The noise tormented me. I disliked people who
shouted. My head ached at the banging of the
drum. I could understand about heaven to which
good people went but was repulsed by roughvoiced men who pointed fingers at you and
roared about hell and damnation.
98
Much of his upbringing was in the West
Australian countryside, in York and other inland
towns, where he developed a mystical attachment
to the Australian bush, a fascination with its original inhabitants and a contentment with solitude
that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Then,
around age twelve, he won a scholarship to Perth
Modern School, where his performance was understandably average because he was bored with most
of the subjects and spent his spare time free-reading
in the school’s library.
At seventeen he got a sub-editing job with the
West Australian, Perth’s morning newspaper, and
was soon writing book reviews and literary essays,
work he loved. The theatre attracted him too,
including playwriting, an interest he shared with a
woman more ambitious than he and soon to become
his wife, Alexandra Darker. Their honeymoon took
them to London, where he spent many hours in the
British Museum Reading Room researching early
West Australian history, focusing on Aboriginal
policy. A serious honeymoon. They went to lectures
and debates, listening to Sir James Frazer (author
of The Golden Bough), G.K. Chesterton (interesting
on Jews), H.G. Wells (semi-Stalinist). I should add
that these are not Hasluck’s comments but mine—
we are not informed what he thought of these folk,
they were just famous people.
After returning home he turned to writing articles for the West Australian on Aboriginal policy.
At this time most West Australians considered the
Aborigines a dying race. Hasluck wanted to see
them assimilated. The alternative was some form
of separate development, and the debate over alternative lines of government policy continues to the
present, with varying nuances, though the word
assimilation is no longer used. Hasluck’s lifelong
advocacy of assimilationist policies defines him for
many as patronising. He thought of assimilation
mainly in terms of common citizenship and equal
rights and opportunities, believing that attachment
to aspects of traditional Aboriginal culture might
well endure. It was a complex issue he never properly resolved even when he had the relevant portfolio, as we shall see.
Having graduated BA at the University of
Western Australia in 1937 he proceeded to an MA
by thesis on the history of the state’s Aboriginal
policies. This turned into his first major publication,
brought out by MUP in 1942: Black Australians. Well
received, it established his reputation as a scholar.
Through these years he was also writing poetry and
broadcasting on literary topics over ABC Radio.
In 1941, wanting to contribute to the nation
at war, he joined the Department of External
Affairs in Canberra, with the support of his old
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journalist friend John Curtin, then Leader of the
Federal Opposition and soon to be Prime Minister.
Assigned to the section devoted to post-war policy
and planning, his responsibilities grew and he
found himself travelling overseas to conferences on
post-war issues.
His most significant work at External Affairs
came towards the end of the war and in its aftermath. Along with John Burton, Kenneth Bailey,
Alan Watt and others, he was a key member of
Evatt’s delegation to the UNO planning conference at San Francisco in April 1945. Many of the
ideas Evatt advanced there on behalf of Australia,
Bolton argues, came from Hasluck. The man who
most impressed Hasluck there was Soviet Foreign
Minister Viacheslav Molotov:
He is easily the outstanding person of the
conference, in fact the most impressive figure
I have met—Churchill or the King or anyone
else included … He has a wise passivity and of
course complete command of himself … He
does not seem elated over his successes for he
expected them; he does not show any chagrin
over his reverses because he probably expected
them … He clearly looks upon foreign politics
as a skilled and continuing adjustment of forces.
Putting Molotov above Churchill? Well,
Molotov was a more successful diplomat. He had
played Ribbentrop face-to-face at the carve-up
game and come out winner-take-all. At this very
time, Soviet divisions had just crossed the Oder
and were cleaning house in Berlin. They’d won with
comparatively little help, too—their tanks, as seen
in all the film footage, were their own T35s, not
American or British stuff. But why did Hasluck put
“the King” in there? A nice guy, but …
Subsequently, in New York, Hasluck worked
at the Atomic Energy Commission as Evatt’s
draughtsman (Evatt was temporary chairman), on
a treaty to secure international control of the genie
now out of the bottle. The question, simply put,
was how to keep it a monopoly (a hopeful enterprise). He also represented Australia at the Security
Council. Trygve Lie, UN Secretary-General, was
so impressed by Hasluck’s work as Australia’s head
of mission in New York that he asked him to run the
UN’s European office based in London (US$10,000
tax-free and a staff of eighty), an offer Hasluck used
to press for a higher salary from Canberra—External
Affairs came across with the goods and Hasluck
turned Trygve Lie’s offer down. But in early 1947
Evatt secured the appointment of John Burton as
Secretary of the Department of External Affairs,
upsetting Hasluck, who resigned—he thought
Burton insufficiently independent of Evatt, and the
appointment, based on favouritism, looked like a
violation of the principle of independent advice.
A
s a result, Hasluck’s political sympathies, formerly middle-of-the-road, trended towards the
Liberal Party and he began to consider a political
career, as well as devoting some time to researching
and writing (on commission) the official history of
the home-front war (he would publish the first volume in 1952, the second only in 1970). Even before
he had left External Affairs his wife was writing to
a relation that
if I can get Paul into Parliament, the Evatt can
beware because Paul would make a much better
foreign minister than he & will have all this
experience. He is fed up with the diplomatic life
as run by the Dept of Ex Affairs, but I think he
would like the running of foreign policy. I don’t
plug the idea much yet, but try & understand
how it is. What can he come back to that won’t
seem tame & backwash after this. I think my
idea is the only possible one. In the next 3
years he can write his War History wh. won’t
be much trouble to him, & he can be getting
known again in the West & then at the next
elections—Well, we’ll see.
Meanwhile he found academic employment
as reader in history at the University of Western
Australia, working alongside John Legge, who
thought him likeable but arrogant and intellectually stubborn, “apt to be overly convinced of the
rightness of his own opinions”. Hasluck worked on
his war history, frustrated by Burton, who blocked
access to those records that did exist—many had
been lost.
Having sought and won pre-selection for the
new seat of Curtin, he wrote to his wife saying he
regretted it because he detested Canberra. After
reading this she scribbled across the top “This sort
of letter makes me mad!” How telling that is, and
how admirable of Nicholas Hasluck to release to
Geoffrey Bolton his parents’ personal correspondence without restrictions. This biography takes us
inside the minds of the subject and his wife, revealing them in their proper humanity.
After a year and a half on the backbench he was
appointed by Menzies to the portfolio of Territories:
the Northern Territory, Papua New Guinea, Nauru,
Norfolk Island and various lesser places. As he later
wrote to his wife, “Instead of feeling that my merit
had been recognized or that I had received the confidence of the Prime Minister I had the feeling that
I had been brought in reluctantly at the last moment
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as a tail-ender.” His wife seemed disappointed too,
and more seriously disappointed by his neglect of
her when she was in Canberra: “It is hard,” she told
Henrietta Drake-Brockman in June 1951,
to ask Paul things at present. I have been very
sad a lot of the time here, and won’t bore you
with it, but it is quite obvious that Paul feels no
need of me here, and I myself think he doesn’t
like his limelight shared. He does not like
sharing his life or anything.
This is what we want in a biography, truth.
As Bolton says, Hasluck “believed in the rigorous
separation of public life from private life” and his
“concept of duty led him to give priority to the everincreasing demands of public life”. The marriage
suffered accordingly.
In his Territories portfolio he pushed for
Aboriginal assimilation, which, in his own uncompromising words, meant that
All persons of aboriginal blood or mixed-blood
in Australia will live in the same way as white
Australians do … Full assimilation will mean
that the aboriginal shares the hopes, the fears,
the ambitions and the loyalties of all other
Australians and draws from the Australian
community all his social needs, spiritual as well
as material.
Reading that today, one wonders a little about
those “spiritual needs”. Aboriginal culture was profoundly spiritual, and what was to replace that?
Church on Sundays? Or the “spirit” of a humanist
agnosticism, widespread in the “Australian community” then as now? And those “loyalties”? To what,
exactly?—and why? Shouldn’t loyalty be earned by
whoever or whatever it is to whom loyalty is supposed to be shown? In this case, how had it been
earned? No point in answering, for Hasluck was
engaging in empty rhetoric. It wasn’t going to be
that easy and he surely knew it. Here’s another try:
Assimilation means not the suppression
of Aboriginal culture but rather, that for
generation after generation, cultural adjustment
will take place. The native people will grow into
a society in which by force of history they are
bound to live.
“Force of history”: that was more realistic, and
honest. In another talk he added the useful phrase
“if they choose to do so”. As for the vexed issue
of “stolen children”, he believed the state had a
responsibility of care in regard to any neglected
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children, white or black, but in this portfolio he was
focusing on Aboriginal children, and there wasn’t
much cross-referencing or criteria-conflation with
standard practice in white suburbia. He thought that
“The younger the child is at the time of removal the
better for the child.” That sounds hard. He thought
Aborigines should share in the exploitation of the
minerals on their land, and sponsored appropriate
legislation. That was just. But “assimilation” as a
desideratum has since been abandoned in Australia:
who wants a dreary sameness? And assimilate to
what? There’s never been a uniform white culture
here, and things have only become more complicated
since 1945.
H
e was stuck with the Territories portfolio far
longer than he wanted. “Territories killed me
politically,” he later wrote, “and I knew all the time
that it was killing me, but what else could one do
but stick at a job that no one else wanted?” Any
political ambition dried up. He wrote to his wife
in 1959, “Does anyone ever want to give me anything at all or do they only want to take from me?”
adding, “But you have been so nice and helpfully
understanding this year love!” At least, he told her,
there was no one else but her: “having a job to do
I do it as best I can, and though this has meant
neglect of you by me and also some neglect of me
by you, there is nothing but my work as your rival”.
Menzies, it’s said, considered Hasluck for
External Affairs in 1960 and consulted the powerful departmental head, Sir Arthur Tange, who disliked the idea (“the department would not welcome
him”). Hasluck had to wait until late 1963 for a shift
and then it was to Defence, short-term, because a
few months later Menzies finally offered Hasluck
External Affairs in place of Sir Garfield Barwick
who was appointed Chief Justice of the High Court.
Bolton reveals that as Minister for Defence
Hasluck “seldom left the ministerial office in
Parliament House to visit his department” and
that he “hampered his capacity for constructive
analytical thought about the problems of foreign
policy by his insistence on mastering the day-today detail of departmental issues without allowing
himself time for wider strategic considerations.”
Part of the problem was his difficult relationship
with Tange. “If only Hasluck had been able, as in
similar circumstances at a later stage in Tange’s
career Malcolm Fraser was, to invite him to address
their issues over an informal whisky, things might
have run more smoothly,” Bolton thinks. Tange
recalled that “Hasluck was invariably abrupt,
nervous and frosty, and if he were offered policy
advice he would freeze up, rustle his papers, and
make non-committal noises to bring the meeting
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to an end.” Of course he took no notice of Tange’s “Mr Hasluck would never let us down, and if he
scepticism about the wisdom of sending battalions could break out of his self-imposed prison, might
of conscripts to fight and die in Vietnam. What prove an outstanding leader”). One colleague
minimal original thinking Hasluck had done recalled that “on the morning of the poll he
on strategy had led him to the conviction “that conversed with nobody, but contented himself with
China, unless deterred, would lay claim not only to retiring to the parliamentary library”. Billy Snedden
Taiwan, but also to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Leslie Bury were eliminated, leaving Gorton to
Malaysia, and parts of India, the Soviet Union and beat Hasluck forty-three votes to thirty-eight.
the Philippines”. One wonders what he later made
So he slogged on in External Affairs, steadfastly
of the strategic breakthrough on China by Nixon urging “the continuation of the bombing campaign
and Kissinger.
against North Vietnam” and spurning “the idea of
While he was content to follow American for- entering into negotiations”, not knowing, of course,
eign policy on key issues, he would have been hap- that the Americans were moving in a completely
pier had Britain been able to exert
different direction. The big change
more muscle in Australia’s region,
came at the end of March 1968
because he had a visceral dislike
rygve Lie, the UN when President Johnson announced
of America’s cultural power, tellhe was not contesting the presiSecretary-General, dential
ing his wife, “Really America has
election that year and was
contaminated the whole of Western
stopping
the bombing of most of
was so impressed
Civilisation throughout the world.”
North Vietnam. Australia was left
by Hasluck’s work wrong-footed, but as Bolton points
True enough, perhaps. He thought
as Australia’s head out, “This was neither the first nor
the Russians could be induced to
“restrain” the Chinese, as if they
of mission in New the last time Washington would
were not ideological enemies. De
announce a major change of policy
York that he asked without consulting Canberra. Less
Gaulle’s foreign minister, Maurice
Couve de Murville, patiently him to run the UN’s than a week earlier, Hasluck had
pointed out to Hasluck that “China
been asserting the need to keep up
European office
has three aims, to protect herself
the pressure on North Vietnam.”
based in London.
from external aggression, to achieve
He was also increasingly out of
international acceptability and to
whack with his prime minister,
develop its resources”, and sugwho was thinking far more interestgested that “although North Vietnam was receiving ingly than Hasluck on this and other policy matters.
help from China, if peace were achieved by a proc- “Hasluck’s policy was unravelling.” It was fortunate,
ess of neutrality North Vietnam would be resistant then, that later that year Gorton offered him the
to China. The Chinese would be eager for a settle- governor-generalship.
ment with the United States.” However, in Bolton’s
asluck was respected in his new role and had
words, “Hasluck was unable to heed his insights.”
the good fortune not to have to resolve any difn December 17, 1967, Prime Minister Harold ficult issues. Although he was no doubt perturbed
Holt disappeared in the turbulent waters off to see so many of his policies overturned by the
the Victorian town of Portsea, presumed drowned. new Labor government from late 1972, his relations
Hasluck rang his wife, and later described the with Whitlam were closer than they had been with
conversation:
Gorton or his successor McMahon. “I have had
more conversations with Whitlam in six months,”
She asked me about myself, and I said that I did
he told one reporter, “than I had in the full term of
not want the prime ministership, I had too little
his predecessors.” Hasluck’s term was due to expire
regard for many members of the Liberal Party
in April 1974 and Whitlam invited him to stay on
to wish to lead them, and in any case, I had
for a further two years. Alexandra Hasluck was not
been “rubbished” so successfully by [William]
keen on the idea, and nor was Hasluck. Whitlam
McMahon and undermined so much by Harold
then sought Hasluck’s advice on a possible replacehimself that I doubted anyone would want me.
ment. One of Hasluck’s suggestions was Sir John
Kerr, Chief Justice of New South Wales. Looking
He was persuaded to stand, partly by Menzies, back on Kerr’s 1975 dismissal of Whitlam, Hasluck
who thought Gorton unsuitable. Hasluck had blamed Kerr for failing to counsel, advise and warn.
little support from the press (Melbourne Age: He dismissed the idea that, had Kerr indicated one
“determinedly colourless”; Sydney Morning Herald: of the options open to him was dismissal of the
T
O
H
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prime minister, Whitlam would have telephoned
Buckingham Palace and had Kerr himself dismissed. It could not have been done by a telephone
call. Kerr knew that.
One of the best things about Bolton’s biography
is its interiority, the product of all the personal
correspondence that feeds into it. We see and
sympathise with Hasluck’s problems of personality
and intimate relationships because we know that it
could not have been different. People can’t change
their natures. Both Hasluck and his wife paid the
price of a career in Canberra he never really wanted.
In Yeats’s terms (perceptively quoted by Bolton) it
was a bad bargain:
The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life or of the work;
And if it choose the second, must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
Philip Ayres wrote on Claudio Véliz in the December
and January-February issues.
Daryl McCann
The Long War Comes to Lebanon
Salafism in Lebanon: From Apoliticism to
Transnational Jihadism
by Robert G. Rabil
Georgetown University Press, 2014, 304
pages, US$29.95
U
ntil 1975 Lebanon was one of the few prosperous places in the eastern Mediterranean. Its
various ethnic and religious groups lived side by
side in tolerance if not harmony. Then came the civil
war, which lasted until 1990, and the country has
been in decline, sometimes chaos, ever since.
The central contention of Robert G. Rabil’s
Salafism in Lebanon is that Salafism (or Islamic fundamentalism) has “now emerged as a prominent
ideological and political driver of the Sunni community” in Tripoli and surrounding rural districts
of northern Lebanon. The power of today’s Sunni
political and religious leaders “lies not only in their
ability to mobilise their community and face off
Hezbollah but also the identity, political authority
and religious crisis engulfing Sunnism in Lebanon”.
Critically, traditional Lebanese sectarianism, the
civil war, the Palestinian camps, Syrian interventionism, a local version of Khomeinism (Hezbollah)
and the Syrian Civil War have all contributed to
102
the rise and rise of Salafism in Lebanon, and yet in
themselves they do not constitute a sufficient explanation for the growth of Islamic revivalism.
Rabil maintains that Tripoli’s main square, formerly known as Karami Square, is emblematic of
Lebanon’s Sunni political-religious transformation.
It was once named after Abdul Hamid Karami,
a Sunni political figure who played no small part
in the establishment of the independent Lebanese
Republic in 1943. Modern Lebanon’s “Confessional”
politics has always been a complex arrangement,
with constitutional power traditionally divided
along lines of religious affiliation—Maronite
Catholic (presidency), Sunni Muslim (prime ministership) and Shiite Muslim (parliamentary speaker).
Nevertheless, there was once a commitment by most
of Lebanon’s four million inhabitants to the nationstate and some kind of functional inter-communal
cohabitation.
The story of the Karami dynasty tells us much
about Sunni history in Lebanon. Karami, as the
Grand Mufti of Tripoli, was a dominant religious
political figure amongst the Sunnis (approximately a quarter of the population) at the time of
Lebanon’s independence, and helped forge an alliance with the country’s Maronite Catholic majority.
The Sunnis, according to Rabil, wanted to “Arabise”
the Christian locals while the Maronites were intent
on “Lebanonising” the Muslim populace with their
notion of “Phoenicia”. The slogan at the time, “No
East, No West”, encapsulated the aspiration of many
who hoped Lebanon would find its own way in the
world. Karami himself was only briefly Lebanon’s
prime minister (in 1945) but his son, Rashid Karami
(1927–87), occupied the post at least ten times before
he was assassinated. Rashid was not beyond sectarian manoeuvring, and threw his weight behind the
Nasser-inspired unrest of 1958, but he had a number
of redeeming qualities.
Rabil writes about the Tripoli of his own childhood and the city of his father’s memory: “My late
father loved the mouthwatering sweets of Tripoli
and the city’s historical landmarks and promenades
that blended smoothly with its modernity.” It is in
this evocative context that Rashid Karami, with
his extensive collection of rare birds and beloved
fruit orchard, strikes one as an almost Chekhovian
figure from a pre-revolutionary world. Rashid,
similar to his younger brother Omar Karami,
can be criticised for his pro-Syrian sympathies;
nevertheless, at the time of Rashid’s death many
acknowledged that as premier he often shored up
the office of the (Maronite) presidency. Known as
el effendi (“the gentleman”), the eloquent Rashid
Karami never contributed to a sectarian militia and
retained the hope that Christian–Muslim enmity
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would be overcome.
Omar Karami, who died in January this year,
was just as much an Arab nationalist as Rashid, and
his (regrettable) proclivity for the al-Assad family
no less pronounced. During his premiership Omar
sought to develop the Lebanese army along crosssectarian lines and had some success decommissioning the various militias that plagued the country in
the shadow of the civil war, though clearly he failed
to deactivate Hezbollah. For all their shortcomings, the Karamis remained—at least in their own
minds—faithful to the original parliamentary and
consociationalist concept of the Lebanese Republic.
Pointedly, the statue of Abdul Hamid Karami in
Tripoli’s prominent Nour Square was blown up in
the early days of the civil war and replaced in the
1980s by the Islamic Unity Movement’s gigantic silver sculpture of the word Allah:
Underneath it an inscription reads, “Tripoli
the Fortress of Muslims Welcomes You.”
Significantly, two black Salafi flags flutter behind
the sculpture. This square has become some sort
of vocal outlet of Salafists, where they gather
after Friday prayers to air their grievances.
Neither the city nor political leaders have been
able to restore Karami’s statue or the square’s
original name, or even remove the flags, despite
repeated requests by many in the city to do so.
According to Rabil, the defiance of the local
Salafists and their interpretation of tawhid Allah
means they see themselves as “saved” and “victorious” and everybody else as the “others”. Karamistyle Arab nationalism, for these zealots, has been
superseded by Islamist supremacism.
R
obert G. Rabil distinguishes between three
types of Salafism in Lebanon—quietist, activist
(haraki), and violent jihadist. The link between the
three is a rejection of modernity (and the “moderns”)
by “loving the Prophet and emulating the first
three generations in Islam” or the “pious ancestors”
(al-Salaf al-Salih). While all three versions of
Salafism share medieval-tribal notions of healing
a world torn by division and unifying the ummah
(Islamic community), Lebanese Salafists are often
at odds with each other when it comes to political
action. Assisted by Wahhabi scholarship and Saudi
scholarships, Salem al-Shahal and Lebanon’s quietist
Salafi school officially shunned politics. While the
influential twentieth-century exponent of quietist
Salafism, Muhammed Nasir al-Din al-Albani, was
sometimes in conflict with official Saudi-sanctioned
scholars, his purportedly apolitical Salafism did not
have to be inimical to the interests of the Saudi
rulers: “two currents emerged among their ranks,
one of which advocated an active rejection of the
state and its institutions, while the other sponsored
unconditional support for the ruler”. Al-Albani’s
insistence that parliamentary democracy was “a
Western technique made by the Jews and the
Christians, who cannot be legally emulated” drove
an anti-modernity wedge between Islamic piety and
enlightened constitutional responsibility.
These days quietist Salafists of northern Lebanon
often bristle at the fact that their religiosity and
beards make them targets for anti-militant sentiment. One Tripoli Salafist, Fawaz Zouq, recently
reported to Lebanon’s Daily Star that though a
“peaceful man”, he fears for the safety of his family and is treated by local security forces at checkpoints with “suspicion”. Quietist Salafists can claim
they have, traditionally, emphasised persuasion or
Islamic dissemination (da’wa) over violence ( jihad),
and avoided the militant tactic of charging opponents with unbelief and apostasy (takfir). Quietist
Salafists have reason to complain that Salafi jihadism tarnishes their reputation—and yet any grief on
their part does not automatically draw a line under
the matter.
The quietist Salafist school might employ techniques different from the methodology (manhaj)
of the ferocious al-Nusra Front or the even more
psychotic Islamic State group but, nevertheless, it
does retain anti-modernity Islamic supremacism at
its core. Rabil provides an invaluable insight into the
movement’s ideology in the chapter on Sheikh Sa’d
al-Din Muhammad al-Kibbi, founder and director
of the Salafi al-Bukhari Institute in Akkar. Sheikh
Kibbi, like all Salafists, has a theological vision of
tawhid (unity/oneness of God), which involves the
creation of a “true Islamic community” that dispenses with all manner of heresy and false tales
that emerged after Mohammad’s death. Hopeful
that Islamic rule—faithful to seventh-century strictures—will one day extend to the four corners of
the world, Sheikh Kibbi is just as millennialist as
activist or violent Salafists. The difference is that he
takes his cue from the early stages of Mohammad’s
da’wa in Mecca when, “recognising his military
weaknesses”, the Prophet preferred dealing with his
enemies—“pagans and polytheists”—through persuasion rather than “waging jihad against them”.
Sheikh Kibbi takes a shot at the “ignorance, zeal
and stupidity” of the takfiri fighters, although we
might hope for even stronger language to describe
psychotic killers. One of the characteristics of
Sheikh Kibbi’s quietist Salafism, in the opinion of
Rabil, is to place the “interest of the ummah before
the interest of a nation/state”. To give his due,
Sheikh Kibbi never denigrates Shi’ites as rawafid
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(rejectionists) or impugns Christians or Christian
authority in Lebanon, and sees education a means to
reduce the political influence of Salafi-jihadi organisations in the country. Even so, his political vision
for Lebanon involves little outreach beyond his own
Sunni community (ahl al-Sunna) and goes not much
further than the concept of “the exemplary Islamic
village”. The latter idea, according to Rabil, has
become a reality in part with the transformation of
Tripoli “into a virtual rural city” and the creation
of “an uninterrupted link between Sunni-majority
villages, Akkar and Tripoli”.
Haraki (activist) Salafi ideology, as outlined by
Rabil, is a kind of halfway house between quietist Salafism and Salafi jihadism. The differences, in
the main, concern the best methodology (manhaj)
for achieving tawhid al-ummah (the unity of the
Muslim community). Rabil scrutinises the religiopolitical ideology of Sheikh Zakariya ‘Abd al-Razaq
al-Masri to illustrate the character of activist or
haraki Salafism in Lebanon. Sheikh Masri’s “nearly
ethereal belief ” in the urgency and nobility of realising tawhid al-ummah through jihad overshadows all
other concerns:
For example, for the sake of tawhid al-ummah,
he supports a virtually almost impossible
cooperation between al-Qaeda and Saudi rulers,
since both of them aspire to impose shari’a as a
foundation for Islamic rule. Clearly he neither
considers Salafi-Jihadi organisations as terrorist
ones nor idolatrous states as un-Islamic and
therefore legitimate targets of attack.
There is, in other words, an overlap between the
creedal tenets of quietist and haraki Salafism on the
one hand, and the methodology of haraki Salafism
and Salafi jihadism on the other.
Haraki Salafism is like a supercharged version of
its quietist namesake. There is the same obsession
with securing the unity of the elect—the true believers—but a more heightened sense of a pressing fateful
battle between Belief and Unbelief. Sheikh Masri’s
sensibility is not only millennialist; it is apocalyptic
as well. The kuffars (unbelievers) and their nefarious
wiles are everywhere and need to be outsmarted and
defeated if a new golden age of tawhid al-ummah
is to materialise. The “devout”, conversely, must be
whipped into shape (so to speak) and kept on the
straight and narrow with punishments dispensed
for everything from minor prohibitions (saghair) to
apostasy, which must incur—naturally—the death
penalty. In the long haul, Jews and Christians will
be protected as People of the Book, as long as they
pay a head tax ( jizya) and accept their “protected”
status as ahl al-dhimma. The future prospects of
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polytheists, atheists and secularists—deemed by
Sheikh Masri to be “like contagious deadly diseases
that need to be excised”—do not look promising
after the restoration of Allah’s rule on earth. The ideology of Salafi jihadism, as delineated by
Rabil, is obsessed with the purity and unity of the
ummah no less than its Salafi counterparts. Usbat
al-Ansar, a jihadist movement that grew out of
the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, is keen
to see the State of Israel eradicated but not to be
replaced by an Islamist Republic of Palestine. That
would constitute some form of patriotism, which
implies the “the love of and belonging to a fatherland, meaning the interest of the fatherland precedes
religion and divine law”. This is kufr, since “Islam
enjoins the love and support of believers, regardless
of their fatherlands”.
S
alafism in Lebanon studiously and methodically builds the case that the three branches of
Lebanese Salafism are something more than distant
relatives. A fixation with ahl al-Sunna and tawhid alUmmah sooner or later puts Salafism of every shade
and form on a collision course with “the moderns”,
and that includes modern-minded Muslims and
secular Lebanese. The extra tragedy for Lebanon,
however, is that the fires of politicised Salafism have
been fuelled by Hezbollah’s Shi’a version of jihadism, aided and abetted by Iranian money and arms.
A Lebanese anti-Iranian (but nonetheless Shi’a)
scholar, Muhammad Ali al-Husseini, has argued
recently—at some risk to his personal safety—that
“religious texts must be historically contextualised
rather than used to incite perpetual violence”. This
strikes at the heart of Islamic revivalism. In stark
contrast to the vast majority of Shi’a scholars in
Lebanon, Husseini is not only anti-Iranian but has
also sent his felicitations to the citizens of Israel—
“our cousins, the children of Isaac son of Abraham”.
Rabil is not indisposed to blaming Damascus
for ultimately encouraging the rise of Salafism in
Lebanon. Both Hafiz al-Assad and his son Bashar
used the guise of “Ba’athist nationalist discourse” to
“win over the majority Sunni community” in Syria.
Almost every initiative on the part of the Assads,
from entering Lebanon in 1976 “on the side of the
Christian camp and the National Movement camp
and its PLO foot soldiers” to supporting Tehran in
the 1980–88 Iran–Iraq War, was in the interests of
regime security or, to put it another way, “Alawi
hegemony over the state”. Syria’s days as a unitary
state now seemingly over, the same fate could well
be in store for Lebanon if Sunni and Shi’a Islamists
engage in an existentialist war.
Saudi Arabia is currently in the process of
building a 1000-kilometre “Great Wall” to protect
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itself from the Islamic State to the north. Raymond
Ibrahim has noted the bitter irony of the Saudis
trying to keep off their turf “the very same Muslims
most nurtured and inf luenced by a Saudi—or
Wahhabi or Salafi—worldview”. There are those who
will argue that Ibrahim is oversimplifying matters,
but can we really avow—as some do—that quietist
Salafism has, on balance, impeded the evolution
of violent jihadism in the region? Saudi Arabia is
often described as a “strategic ally” of the West,
and yet I would argue that Raef Badawi, the Saudi
blogger sentenced to ten years in jail and 1000 lashes
for “insulting Islam”, is our—and liberty’s—real
strategic ally in Saudi Arabia. Badawi’s “crime”, as
it happens, was promoting secular democracy and
freedom of conscience in the kingdom. To be blunt,
the Salafist project, as Egypt’s President Abdel
Fattah el-Sisi intimated in his 2015 New Year’s
Day speech, requires scuppering: “You need to step
outside of yourselves to be able to observe it, and
reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.”
Only days after the terrorist attacks in Paris left
seventeen dead came news that Taha al-Khayal, a
twenty-year-old Salafi jihadist, had killed nine people in a suicide bombing at the popular Omran Café
in Tripoli. Taha al-Khayal, it turns out, was the
nephew of Saeed Khayal, a resident of south-west
Sydney. Moreover, Saeed Khayal—like the victims
of the murderous assault—is an Alawite Muslim,
whereas his miscreant relative was Sunni. An agonised and grief-struck Mr Khayal wondered “how
the deadly hand of international terrorism came
to reach inside his family”. A good place to start
looking for an answer would be Robert G. Rabil’s
Salafism in Lebanon.
Daryl McCann has a blog at http://darylmccann.
blogspot.com.au.
Robert Murray
The Good Life on the Missions
Blind Moses: Aranda Man of High Degree and
Christian Evangelist
by Peter Latz
IAD Press, 2014, 179 pages, $34.95
T
his modest little book from an indigenous-based
publisher in Alice Springs is one of the most
important yet written about Australian history. It is
the nearest we yet have to a “horse’s mouth” account
of how Aborigines reacted to white occupation.
Reliable historical information about Aborigines
and the first white settlers in their lands—mostly
graziers but often missionaries too—has always
been scarce and fragmented. This book confirms the
sketchy impression from other parts of Australia that
a cautious, shrewd and prickly welcome to modernity was most typical, on pastoral stations as well as
missions, though a lot could go wrong.
There is not a lot of evidence for the invasion/
resistance/massacre/dispossession cliché. Peter Latz
says it is pointless to argue whether or not whites
should have come in the first place—they did—but
from an Aboriginal viewpoint there were many
advantages, as well as the more unmeasurable disadvantage of “dispossession”.
Latz has had the unique experience of growing
up, the son of lay missionaries, at the Hermannsburg
Lutheran mission in the MacDonnell Ranges west
of Alice Springs. Aborigines there “grew me up”,
he says. He loved the life and says Aboriginal life
at its best was very good. He played mainly with
indigenous children, became naturally fluent in
their Aranda language and has the knack of seeing
black and white as ordinary people, without much
apparent sense of difference or a racial gap. In adult
life he became a botanist and was until he retired
Senior Botanist in the Northern Territory. (He prefers Aranda to the newer spelling, Arrernte.)
The book is a “life and times” biography of
Moses Tjalkabota Uraiakuraia, the first Aborigine
ordained as a Lutheran pastor. Moses ministered at
Hermannsburg but also brought the Christian message to wide areas of Central Australia, although
illness made him blind at the age of thirty-five. He
dictated some memoirs but died in 1954 before he
had finished. His memoirs, along with several mission histories, documents and the memories of the
author and others, are the sources for the book. Latz
knew him well as a boy.
Moses was born in 1872, five years before missionaries from Germany established Hermannsburg.
White graziers followed soon after, towards the end
of a century of white settlement across the continent.
The most urgent problem facing both the early
missionaries and the Aborigines was the precipitous fall in population, due to venereal disease causing a low birth rate, infanticide (killing unwanted
babies) and the high death rate from tribal warfare
and “payback”. Payback killing often continued over
generations. The Western Aranda exterminated one
whole neighbouring people because it had seriously
violated tribal law.
“I have often been told by elderly locals that the
Mission days were the happiest time of their lives,”
Latz says. “Although they were poor and conditions
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were harsh, the rule of law prevailed, and they were
no longer afraid of being unjustly punished for
some infringement of the Old Law, by themselves
or outsiders.”
Death caused by other Aborigines comes over as
the worst feature of tribal life. Latz says 25 per cent
of Moses’s Aboriginal acquaintances were killed by
other Aborigines.
The VD came from the age-old Aboriginal custom of men lending their women—who in principle,
if not always in practice, were the men’s possessions—to visiting men in return for gifts. Once VD
had infiltrated the long-isolated society, this ancient
custom ensured that it spread among the tribes.
Whites certainly introduced and spread VD,
but Latz quotes a view in the Northern Territory
that it also came from Sulawesi fishermen who visited the northern coast from about 1720. Historians
have long suspected this additional cause and the
view quoted here is one of many in Latz’s book that
strengthens probabilities noted elsewhere about the
historic white–black interface and the problems of
tribal life.
The Christian principle of faithful marriage
and “Thou shalt not kill” (however inadequately
observed) brought a gradual change in Aboriginal
behaviour in Central Australia, both from converts
and from more indirect influence, without which
the people of the Centre might have died out.
T
he anthropologist Baldwin Spencer believed
the Aboriginal people were doomed to become
extinct, as part of natural selection. The missionaries were more hopeful, says Latz, and often clashed
with him—disagreement which the proud Spencer
did not always appreciate. This “inevitably dying
out” view influenced government policy until as late
as 1953, when Paul Hasluck became Commonwealth
Minister for Territories, Latz says.
The missionaries also stood up for Aborigines
against the sometimes overbearing grazing interest.
The Aborigines loved white food, which the
missionaries introduced through their own livestock grazing and planting of fruit and vegetables.
Working on pastoral stations in return for rations was
a common way in most of Australia for Aborigines
to begin integrating into the new society.
It was especially valued during droughts. Latz
shows that even in grazed areas there was enough
food for all in good (by Central Australian standards) seasons. But even in ungrazed areas severe
drought brought starvation among the Aborigines,
drawing them to the missions and grazing stations.
Raids on cattle, white homesteads and other tribes
also intensified during droughts.
This is an important point for Australian history
106
generally. As far as we can tell from records, violent
white–Aboriginal conflict on the grazing and farming frontier was mostly a problem during droughts.
Frontier conf lict in a previously fairly peaceful
southern Australia suddenly erupted in 1838, a time
of severe drought. The troubles lasted for up to five
years.
Punitive death apart, the racial relations Latz
depicts seem more like country town rivalry and
gossip than great drama. There was tension between
generations, with the young more open to mission
influence and the new ways, and fathers sometimes
hostile to their sons as a result. There were Pauline
conversions, when dogged adherents of the old
ways suddenly saw the light of the new. As ever, a
few dusky converts learnt to bend religion to their
own advantage. Some, but not all, of the Lutherans
could be strict about their own dogma, and charity
was not entirely present when a new Catholic mission near Alice Springs snapped up the neighbouring Eastern Aranda whom the Lutherans had eyed
for conversion.
Latz says a mixture of old and new, respecting
the Aranda way, worked best. “White people telling Aborigines what to do is a total waste of time,”
he observes. “The Aborigines have to work it out
for themselves.” His relaxed campfire yarning style
makes these and other cultural differences seem as
everyday and as human in scale as they would be in
any other society.
One problem was that Aboriginal women often
liked white men and wanted to stay with them, as
distinct from being lent for a short time. “White
fella doesn’t knock you round so much, better
tucker,” one is quoted as saying. The missionaries
abhorred violence between husbands and wives and
among the tribes people generally and did their best
to reduce it. They also sought to reduce the overpowering belief in evil spirits, innumerable fearsome
taboos and the rigid, unquestioning obedience to
the tribal elders which often led to bullying.
The Aborigines believed stubbornly that evil
spirits caused illness, which was common and frequently fatal—how far it originated with the whites
is not clear—but at least in the early days they
rejected advice about how to treat it, and suffered
and died unnecessarily. Latz says he understands
the Aboriginal tendency to take life one day at a
time, as distinct from the work ethic of the missionaries, because they had so little control over nature
and fate’s vagaries.
Violence from whites did not seem to be a very
big problem by comparison, but there was some. The
crusty South Australian police constables Willshire
and Wurmbrand, with their squads of mounted
Aboriginal troopers, despatched some rather rough
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summary justice but Latz says several good police
worked well with the Aborigines.
He adds extra light on the massacre at Coniston
station north-west of Alice Springs in 1928, the last
recorded white massacre of blacks. Aborigines killed
a white dog trapper, Fred Brooks, and another settler was lucky to escape. In the police-led reprisal,
up seventy blacks were killed, according to the
Aborigines.
The context was the terrible drought of the time
in the Centre. Starving, but traditionally warlike
Warlpiri Aborigines from the neighbouring Tanami
Desert moved into the station, putting pressure on
the Northern Aranda living there whose numbers had
declined through disease. Latz says the settler who
had been attacked had infringed Warlpiri customs
and, though he had three Aboriginal mistresses,
“wanted to break in all the young women”. The
trapper, Brooks, gave nothing in return for sexual
services. Enter the Aranda man “Police Paddy”, who
his tribesmen said “killed a hundred blackfellows”,
all Warlpiri. Paddy would have seen the punitive
party as an excellent chance to kill as many Warlpiri
as possible and drive the rest back to their land, Latz
says. “Of course the white party members would
have been well aware of the situation and would have
given Paddy plenty of ammunition … and probably
also gave him a helping hand.”
He recounts one other bush massacre by whites
on a station near Alice Springs, and another squatter who had a reputation with the blacks for “knocking off niggers” but the evidence here is only of him
threatening them with a gun. These are examples of
the tangled situation which has from time to time
resulted in whites killing blacks in big numbers, but
also of the many rumours based on little more than
threats from guns brandished or fired off in a tense
situation.
The courage and commitment of the missionaries are awesome—used in its correct sense—especially the early ones who came from Germany into
some of the driest and most remote and inhospitable
country on Earth. Their many feats included translating hymns and the Gospels into Aranda. The
book is dedicated to the Rev. Carl Strehlow, who
as pastor, manager and brilliant linguist made it all
work, and to his family.
At home in mid-nineteenth-cent u r y
Hermannsburg, Germany, the Lutherans had
wanted “heathens” to convert. The MacDonnell
Ranges, a spectacular relative oasis in the desert,
provided a substantial supply of them. The mission
wanted conversion where possible, but also to spread
the Word more generally and bring education and
health assistance as well as religion. They faced a
three-way language hurdle—German-English-
Aranda—as well as frequent financial squeezes,
drought and other visitations from nature, hurtful
suspicion in two world wars and frequent incomprehension from both the civilian and Lutheran authorities in Adelaide. (The Northern Territory was part
of South Australia until the Commonwealth took
responsibility for it in 1911.)
In the 1970s missionaries came for a time to be
widely condemned as arrogant destroyers of the oldest living culture on earth, but the Aboriginal MP
and sometime Northern Territory minister Alison
Anderson sees it differently. In an afterword to this
book, she says:
An Aboriginal evangelist and a blind one at
that! People were amazed—here was one of their
own bringing them God’s word, a message of
spiritual love. And before churches were built,
worship happened in their country, in a riverbed,
on the side of a hill, under a tree. There was
connection and attachment straightaway.
I was told the stories of Blind Moses and his
wife Sofia, who was leading him around, by my
grandmother and my mum and aunties. I never
heard anything bad from them about that time,
mission time. There wasn’t the violence (except
for some tribal fighting) nor the alcohol and
drugs that we see today. With his message of
love and respect Moses brought people together
across the Western Desert, even total strangers.
Robert Murray is the author of The Making of
Australia: A Concise History (Rosenberg) and
frequently contributes to Quadrant on history.
K arl Schmude
Return to the Future
Remembering Belloc
by James V. Schall
St Augustine’s Press, 2013, 178 pages, US$22
H
ilaire Belloc has been cruelly served by posterity. Within barely a decade of his death in
1953, a cultural and religious revolution began to
shake Western society, overturning traditions and
values he had cherished and championed. From a
way of life formed, at least residually, by Christian
faith and morality, the culture of the West succumbed to a new spirit that was a curious amalgam
of paganised longing and secularised abandonment.
Yet Belloc would not have been surprised by
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the twofold changes that took place—on the one
hand, a massive moving away from inherited traditions and practices, which offered, at least initially, a certain liberation but ushered in a spiritual
and intellectual emptiness and loss of purpose; and
on the other, the emergence of new cults, ranging
from sexual adventurism to environmentalist salvation, which sought to fill the void left by the lost
transcendental destinies. Belloc’s knowledge of the
past would have prepared him for cultural reversals,
and his Catholic faith would have immunised him
against excessive earthly hopes.
Remembering Belloc is aptly named, though
it is not primarily a reminiscence, and certainly
not an exercise in nostalgia. James V. Schall is an
American Jesuit who has combined a lifetime of
scholarly work (in political philosophy where, before
his recent retirement, he taught at Georgetown
University in Washington) with a prolific career as
a popular author. His act of “remembering” Belloc
is neither history nor biography. He does not treat
of the entirety of the author’s output—largely
ignoring his poetry, for example—nor is he at pains
to canvass his reputation as a controversialist. The
book is rather a series of reflections, based mainly
on Belloc’s essays (Schall calls him “the best short
essayist in the English language”), that seeks to
bring out the enduring value of his ideas. It is not a
paean to the past so much as a return to the future.
Belloc understood the character of Western culture, formed as it was by the fusion of different traditions—Jewish and Christian in religion, Greek in
intellect, Roman in law and authority, and barbarian in popular culture—which united a multiplicity
of peoples under common assumptions about life
and liberty, and the meaning of God and man and
the cosmos itself, which had shaped a civilisation
that Belloc experienced directly in his long life of
restless travel. He was a passionate and habitual
walker, and his vast and varied output—he wrote
more than one hundred books, including The Path
to Rome (1902), which captured his pilgrimage on
foot from northern France to the Eternal City—
testifies to H.G. Wells’s acid comment that Belloc
seemed to have been born all over Europe.
His appreciation of these various cultural elements, and above all of the animating influence
of religious faith, enabled him to grasp the significance of a resurgent Islam. In several chapters, Schall shows how deeply Belloc understood
the spiritual power and appeal of Islam, and how
fully he anticipated what he called “a resurrection
of Islam”. He saw Islam as the most formidable and
persistent enemy which Judeo-Christian civilisation ever faced, and while it had suffered material
decline in recent centuries, it now appeared to him
108
as spiritually superior, and he feared that a secularised West was ill-equipped to come to grips with it.
Highlighting Belloc’s book of essays, Places
(1942), which contains essays on countries and cities
he had visited in the Middle East, Schall comments
that Belloc recognised “the civilizational effects of
different theologies”. He extols Belloc’s prescience
about Islam, shown in such books as The Crusade
(1937) and The Great Heresies (1938), and comments,
“Our failure to know and remember the record and
theology of Islam may yet prove fatal to us. Few
understood this background better than Belloc.”
A telling insight of Belloc’s, which Schall
reports, is the similarities between a puritanical
Islam and Calvinism. Belloc believed that both
sought to simplify religion and sweep away the
accretions acquired over time. He noted their common tendency to cast out the sacramental structure
of Christianity—the power of sacred images, the
ritual celebration of the Mass, the transcendental
office of the priesthood; in fact, the entire material channelling of spiritual influences based on the
human reality of a divine incarnation. It prompts
the thought that, for many intellectual elites in the
contemporary West, Islam has begun to exert a perverse appeal based on a new purity of purpose, and
to move into the gap left by the collapse of Calvinist
Protestantism.
B
elloc was an author of irrepressible versatility:
essayist, poet, novelist, historian, philosopher,
theologian, social and political critic—to name but
a few. The only literary role he seemed to eschew
was that of playwright. Yet despite such diversity, he
had a remarkably unified mind and sensibility. The
key to this integration was his powerful sacramental
sense—his understanding of the spiritualisation of
matter, springing from a source beyond the world
and, unlike pantheism, not simply coinciding with
creation. Belloc was entirely free of the Manichaean
tendency to disdain material reality. He saw it as
it is, not as he would wish it to be, believing that,
finally, it only made sense if it was invested with
transcendental meaning and spiritual purpose.
But Belloc was not simply a set of beliefs and
insights: he was an extraordinary personality, the
threads of which Schall is especially good at drawing out. He quotes Chesterton’s recollection of his
first meeting with Belloc, at which Belloc was supposedly in “low spirits”; but Chesterton found that
these were actually “much more uproarious and
enlivening than anybody else’s high spirits”. At
the same time, while being the most companionable and gregarious of men, Belloc often seemed
sad, being poignantly aware, in Schall’s words, that
there was “the need to attach what happens in time
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to more eternal things”, and that “the final place for
our ‘high spirits’ is not in this world, a world that
Belloc loved so much and described so well in his
walks”.
Remembering Belloc offers a fresh opportunity to
engage “in his walks”, and to appreciate anew his
profound appreciation of Western civilisation and
its spiritual and intellectual underpinnings. Perhaps
his prophetic awareness of Islam will prompt a
renewal of interest in his writings, and fulfil the
hope of the literary critic Frank Swinnerton, who
suggested that a century would pass before Belloc’s
gifts were fully realised and acknowledged—at
which time “his genius will shine like the jewel it
is”.
Swinnerton made this prediction in 1935. We
have only twenty years to wait.
Karl Schmude is a Founding Fellow of Campion
College Australia, Sydney, and a former University
Librarian at the University of New England,
Armidale. His biographical booklet on Hilaire Belloc
was published by the Catholic Truth Society in London
in 2009.
Bloodlines, Stud Breeding
He is ageless, has always been.
He is Chinese. He is Harry.
And now he is in a room with a crucifix,
and photographs of children on ponies jumping,
or in new school uniforms, taken ten,
fifteen years ago. They’d be adults now,
with children of their own. Not his blood
but they are the only blood he has.
And a photo of him as a young man. Impossible, it must be someone else.
There was only one man for this name. A name from the simple generation
that knew nothing but work.
There was no past. He was just there.
He had come with the property
when the place changed hands
and they kept him on.
His hands thickened into paws from milking.
He jog-trotted, was ever deferential, stammered,
was hardly ever off the place, except for church,
though cattlemen spoke to him first.
He was not of their blood
and so, he is here in this room.
Anyone else would be adrift.
The staff like him: are very fond.
He does the gardens; is loved
in that useless way old age is.
Never married. Was there ever a girl?
One he fancied but being Chinese …
He was not of their blood
and so he is in a room,
that’s quiet as a crucifix,
ponies forever lunging mid-flight, the afternoon slumbering between meals.
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Russell Erwin
109
P eter R ya n
The Memory of
Sir John Monash
I
remember precisely my “meeting” with General
Sir John Monash, and I didn’t enjoy it. The day I
started school, 1928 (or maybe 1929); my mother
shepherding me through the east porch of the
stately-but-shabby italianate Land Boomer mansion which housed Malvern Grammar, a comparably shabby-but-decent Anglican school of some 200
boys in Glen Iris.
Just inside the door, in a gilt frame, hung a portrait of an officer, in uniform but bare-headed. It
was yet another copy (or a print), I learned later, of
Sir John Longstaff’s portrayal in oils of General Sir
John Monash. It was natural enough for a five-yearold to suppose that this personage might be part of
the school’s management, and I was scared. Under
the straight line of a close-clipped military moustache, the mouth looked relentlessly stern; I didn’t
fancy falling into his hands one little bit.
Dad dissolved my needless panic directly he got
home from his office job in town. He had passed the
whole of the First World War on active service, as
a sergeant or as a lieutenant. He explained that the
portrait was hung there as simply a mark of respect,
and was highly unlikely to lead to a conversation
with the general himself; if that should happen, I
ought to count myself the luckiest young schoolstarter in Melbourne that year: Monash was beyond
doubt the “most fair-dinkum” of all the Australian
generals.
Now back in civil life, Monash swiftly and
unmistakably became Australia’s “Top Citizen”,
respected at large, and especially by the substantial
number of returned soldiers.
We will never know how many discreet private
chats with him, sought by cabinet ministers federal
and state, lord mayors, archbishops and suchlike,
helped by common sense to smooth the progress
of the public business. Today the most conspicuous of these feats of his diplomacy, worldly wisdom and force of character is Victoria’s Shrine of
Remembrance.
Clear and uncluttered against the Melbourne sky,
110
the Shrine’s towering white granite Greek pyramidal
form, on a perfect alignment with Melbourne Town
Hall along Swanston Street and St Kilda Road,
houses the Shrine’s vibrantly creative organisation.
It is said to be the largest building in the world used
exclusively for commemorative purposes.
A passionate civic desire to create a worthy
memorial to the sacrifice and service of the war was
apparent almost as soon as fighting ceased; funding seemed assured. But years passed in unseemly
wrangling: where should it be located? What form
should it take? A solemn temple? A symbolic archway or obelisk? A hospital, utilitarian but dedicated?
Steady progress followed the advent of Monash as
Chairman of the Board of Shrine Trustees. The classical structure which towers over the south side of
Melbourne Town was ready for dedication by Prince
Henry, Duke of Gloucester, during his visit in 1934. Of a different kind, but equally notable, was
Monash’s contribution to the general advancement of his home state through leadership of the
State Electricity Commission of Victoria, the massive Yallourn power generation, and the advanced
technology which adapted for efficient use the lowgrade brown coal of which Victoria possessed great
deposits.
And then one should mention his perennial support for improved education … and one could go on. To my generation (born in 1923) all this and a
great deal more was widely and generally known
in a vernacular way. It so largely remained to the
generation immediately following (or so I thought
in unjustified complacency). Meanwhile, necessarily slower processes were in hand: accumulating in
orderly collections and libraries the authentic documents of the war, from the commander’s battle orders
for the Somme, to the single anguished postcard to
his mother from the young private soldier dying in
its mud. The massive Australian War Memorial in
Canberra is the prime example of such a repository.
Then can follow the considered volumes, the
specialised studies, the scholarly and judicious
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The Memory of Sir John Monash
tomes, the (perhaps!) “definitive” works which will
establish the literary structures of an age: which is
by no means to say that it will speak with boring
unanimity in chorus. God forbid!
means unusual among surviving old soldiers, by the
way. And, within Melbourne University, we both
supported the non-communist faction within the
numerous and powerful Labor Club.
For Serle, with his proven interests and capaciot the smallest incidental good fortune fol- ties, the attractions of writing a full biography of
lowing my “Ben Chifley” returned service- John Monash were great. A wealth of raw material
man’s post-war university course at Melbourne was lay already in the public domain, but crucial matthat it brought me into friendship with Monash’s ter remained under the private prescription of the
grandchildren, and then with their mother, Sir Monash family; lacking that, a biography would be
John’s daughter, Bertha. She, after the General’s insipid, and also open to errors.
death, lived on with her husband, Colonel Gershon
Serle’s social visits to Iona acquired occasionally,
Bennett, in Monash’s four-square brick mansion in in part, the nature of an embassy to Bertha: a suit
St Georges Road, Toorak, called
for privileged authorial access to a
“Iona”.
unique set of papers. The decision
The sombre brown timber of
was not made overnight, but it was
e will never
Iona’s interior resounded often to
the right answer when it came.
know how many
student merriment, sometimes to
It carried a bonus for me, for I
formal (well, more or less) din- discreet private chats had lately been appointed Director
ner, seated at a table; more often to
Melbourne University Press, and
with him, sought by of
informal student partying in what
I was as keen for MUP to publish it
had been the spacious nursery. cabinet ministers, lord as Geoff was to write it. One night
Bertha and Gershon were wondermayors, archbishops at Iona he and I exchanged reciprofully easy-going with young peocal promises: he would, if granted
and suchlike, helped the access he sought, immediately
ple. One night they returned home
from the cinema, where they had
by common sense to (and with Bertha’s agreement)
gone purposely to enjoy a little traninform me privately. I then would
quillity early in the evening. The smooth the progress of at once advise the MUP Board of
the public business. Management to offer Geoff a forColonel popped his head in, and
indeed there really was a lively stumal and legally binding publisher’s
dent party humming; moving over
contract to publish his book.
close to my ear to make himself heard, in tones of
And before long so it happened, as a genermock despair: “Whoever would believe this nursery ally accepted satisfying success, winning numerous
was once full of beautiful children?”
prizes, critical acclaim, solid sales and world attenEven the Iona tennis court was at student mercy, tion, establishing a lifelong monument to the true
where they could submit to the hilariously eccentric greatness of John Monash.
“Iona local rules” devised by eldest grandson David
arlier I spoke of “complacency”, meaning a slack
Bennett. I must admit that my bride “Davey” who
assumption that one book, even one so good
usually accompanied me to Iona was a more energetically frequent participant than I, in this droll as Serle’s, might hold the door of memory for ever.
Well, it couldn’t: increasingly, as the years passed, to
entertainment.
A regular attender at these “Iona occasions” was the question randomly asked, “What do you know
the historian Geoffrey Serle, a product, like Monash of John Monash?” the reply would be “Wasn’t he
himself, of Melbourne’s Scotch College. A Rhodes some old bigwig who got his name stuck on that
Scholar, he early established for himself a sound suburban university in Melbourne?”
Now in the bookshops appears a lively paperreputation as historian of Victoria’s pioneering, and
then of its “gold rush” period. He and I shared sig- back: Maestro John Monash: Australia’s Greatest
nificant elements of our background—for example, Citizen General. It is a long overdue reminder, which
our war service. We had both served in Papua and my main purpose now is warmly to welcome and
New Guinea (though not together) in the Australian commend, though not in any strict sense to “review”.
The author is Tim Fischer, a distinguished former
ground forces, in the ranks, while Japan remained an
aggressive threat to Australia’s national existence. Australian cabinet minister and holder of diplomatic
appointments abroad. A couple of nights reading
Serle survived a ghastly wound in battle.
For our many years of close association, there was affords you a full and enlightening conspectus of
but one occasion when we discussed in any detail the astounding Monash achievement, in Fischer’s
or depth our experiences of service—not by any forthright if not polished style.
N
W
E
Quadrant April 2015
111
The Memory of Sir John Monash
A regular theme is how Monash had to work
against difficulties created as much by “our side”
as by the machine guns of the enemy: the insinuating newspaper man Keith Murdoch; the aloof
and suspicious Australian official correspondent, C.E.W. Bean; and our guttersnipe prime minister,
W.M. Hughes, offered Monash neither comfort nor
support.
Fischer will tell you of the virtuosity of Monash’s
orchestration of the battle of Hamel—hence the
“Maestro” of the title. Here the new weapon, tanks,
were first used to full intended effect; all arms and
services were rehearsed in their own roles, and their
“fit” into the general picture. He dealt brilliantly
with integrating the newly arriving US troops to
their first action.
It remains to me a matter of wonder that
Monash’s plan allowed ninety hypothetical minutes
for the battle. It took ninety-three.
John Monash has been restored to contemporary being and discussion, as indeed is right. Lord
Acton’s famous passage deserves another airing:
We cannot afford wantonly to lose sight of great
men and memorable lives, and are bound to store
up objects for admiration as far as may be.
Too true! How else does a country maintain its
national self-respect?
It will be clear that, within the scope of the limits
Tim Fischer sets himself, I warmly approve and
commend the book. My only misgiving is a small
and uncertain one, a matter of taste, perhaps, rather
than ethics.
The author makes a plea, explicit and forceful, for
Monash to be given posthumous promotion (perhaps
in two stages) to the ultimate rank of Field Marshal.
The example of Australia’s only Field Marshal, Sir
Thomas Blamey, is expressly given.
It is unarguable that Monash was treated with
gross unfairness in his service by not being promoted
then to rank commensurate with his duties, let alone
with the brilliance and humanity of his performance.
But Australia failed him: let Australia go on wearing
its well-earned disgrace.
Fischer is outspokenly harsh in his judgment
of British generalship, and especially of Field
Marshal Haig (“bordering on criminal neglect”) at
Passchendaele (“at his murderous worst”). And for
General Godley he suggests a sly comparison with
Captain Mainwaring, the silly-ass Home Guard
officer in the BBC series Dad’s Army.
Fischer gives his book a hint of a prospectus. It
even contains a ten-page Appendix: “How to Secure
Posthumous Promotion of Sir John Monash”. This
has been written by my highly respected local federal
MP, Josh Frydenberg, Mr Eager-Beaver himself.
Monash doesn’t need to ask for anything, and
no risk should be run that, even vicariously, he is
petitioning. The poet set his place, and there he
should remain:
Nothing can cover his high fame but heaven;
No pyramids set off his memories
But the eternal substance of his greatness,
To which I leave him.
Birds Bathing
A friend reports watching “a conflagration
of birds feasting, fighting and bathing
in their personal lake”. And I’m eyeing
my blackbirds, fussy frenzied delinquents
flinging food scraps from the compost heap,
a speckle of sparrows pecking seeds
and my ginger and white long-haired puss
sleeping under the scruffy hedge. All
are oblivious of a continuation of clouds
and showery spasms of rain slowly descending.
112
Brian Turner
Quadrant April 2015
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