The Lucky Country – part seven: the sickness at the heart of Australian culture

Albert Tucker, The Lucky Country, 1964

‘Bruce Ruxton is right: we should embrace the legends of defeat,’ Richard Glover, The Sydney Morning Herald, 20.04.90

I arrived home to find my partner ashen-faced. The cat was wailing in the kitchen and the kid was clearly upset. The words came gushing out as soon as she saw me: “I don’t know what to do. I just found myself agreeing with Bruce Ruxton.”

Since she had confessed, I thought I could too. A healthy marriage, after all, is based on sharing such dark secrets. “Yep,” I said, “I agree with him too.”

The issue, you understand, wasn’t Asian immigration, gay rights, or whether environmentalists are all dole-bludging hippies. It was Anzac Day.

Ruxton, the Victorian president of the RSL, is currently doing battle with the journalist Phillip Knightley, who has expressed the view that next Wednesday should be Australia’s last Anzac Day.

It is absurd, argues Knightley, that the battle at Gallipoli should provide our key national image of war. Gallipoli, he says, was a defeat; and a defeat in a battle waged for British interests.

Better to celebrate, he says, the taking of Damascus by the Australian Light Horse, or the victorious battle by General Sir John Monash’s troops on the Western Front in the last months of war.

“Monash’s scientific breakthrough tactics,” he says, “were a powerful factor in the German decision to ask for an armistice and  thus a real turning point in history. Yet the Australians who fought on the Western Front appear doomed to live forever in the shadow of Gallipoli”.

But Mr Ruxton replies that these triumphs, along with others, are already marked by Anzac Day, and that traditions, once established, carry their own weight and importance.

But we can take the argument further. Knightley is right: Anzac Day does mark a defeat. But as such it is in keeping with one of the most consistent themes in the Australian legend: the celebration (or at least worldly-wise acknowledgement) of failure.

Any country can make hoopla about its victories. What makes Australia unique is the way it has always preferred to remember the brave-but-defeated, the underdog and the loser.

Consider, for example, some of the subjects of Australia’s successful historical films: Phar Lap, the story of a horse with  international promise who was poisoned; Les Darcy, the story of a boxer with promise who was killed; Breaker Morant, the story of soldier with promise who was shot.

And, of course, Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, the story of fighters of promise who were misled and misused.

Dad and Dave never expanded and made it rich, they just battled on against flood and rain – two steps forward, three steps back. The heroes of Lawson and Paterson were triers more than they were doers; just as the great national bards were humourists rather than battle-balladeers.

Waltzing Matilda, the real national song, is about a tramp who can only find freedom through suicide. The Dog on the Tucker Box comes from a poem reciting the multiple disasters of an accident-prone bullocky.

Oh, to live in a country that makes a national icon of a dog that relieved himself in a bullocky’s food hamper.

But not, it seems, for Knightley.

He wants Australia to follow every other nation: to edit the defeats out of history and concentrate on the victories; to puff itself up and worship the tall poppies.

His Dog on the Tucker Box would be straight from Walt Disney – a heroic pup who saved the bullocky’s life rather than spoilt his dinner.

But I rather like Australia’s curious traditions: I like being part of the land of the rising inflection, where every statement is turned into a question; I like a tradition that sees the grim absurdity of life and embraces legends of defeat with a wry smile.

There are many who have argued against Australia’s traditions: arguing our lack of self confidence has held us back; that we have driven away our talented by rejecting a culture of success.

There  may be some truth in this, and certainly we face continuing battles to wean ourselves from cultural and economic cringes of various kinds.

Of course, we do need to wave the flag and be proud. But my problem remains: how can you be flag-wavingly proud when what you’re proudest of is the lack of a pompous, flag-waving pride?

All in all, it seems to me a perfect symbol. And that’s why Bruce Ruxton –  just this once – is right.

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How to retain the relevance of metaphysics (the primacy of consciousness over matter)

Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

How to retain the primacy of consciousness over matter: attach a carefully worded lie to the greatest scientific hypothesis – thus Kant’s ‘Copernican turn’

Kant wrote: ‘…the fundamental laws of the motions of the heavenly bodies gave established certainty to what Copernicus had at first assumed only as an hypothesis, and at the same time yielded proof of the invisible force (the Newtonian attraction) which holds the universe together. The latter would have remained for ever undiscovered if Copernicus had not dared, in a manner contradictory of the senses, but yet true, to seek the observed movements, not in the heavenly bodies, but in the spectator. The change in point of view, analogous to this hypothesis, which is expounded in the Critique, I put forward in this preface as an hypothesis only, in order to draw attention to the character of these first attempts at such a change, which are always hypothetical. But in the Critique itself it will be proved, apodeictically not hypothetically, from the nature of our representations of space and time and from the elementary concepts of the understanding.’ Immanuel Kant, Preface to the Second Edition, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Trans., Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan, London, 1987, 25 (Footnote)

and ‘We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge. This would agree better with what is desired, namely, that it should be possible to have knowledge of objects a priori, determining something in regard to them prior to their being given. We should then be proceeding precisely on the lines of Copernicus’ primary hypothesis. Failing of satisfactory progress in explaining the movements of the heavenly bodies on the supposition that they all revolved round the spectator, he tried whether he might not have better success if he made the spectator to revolve and the stars to remain at rest. A similar experiment can be tried in metaphysics, as regards the intuition of objects. If intuition must conform to the constitution of the objects, I do not see how we could know anything of the latter a priori; but if the object (as object of the senses) must conform to the constitution of our faculty of intuition, I have no difficulty in conceiving such a possibility.’ (22)

Kant’s incorrect assertion that Copernicus had sought the observed movements in the spectator is not the crucial point – it is that Kant thereby had the pretext to give priority over matter to ‘mind’/consciousness – via concepts and the ‘forms of intuition’. Copernicus’ hypothesis is an objective hypothesis about the world, the functioning of which Copernicus recognised requires neither the spectator – nor their ‘mind’/consciousness.1

In On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Copernicus a couple of times referred to the spectator: ‘For every apparent change in place occurs on account of the movement either of the thing seen or of the spectator, or on account of the necessarily unequal movement of both. For no movement is perceptible relatively to things moved equally in the same directions – I mean relatively to the thing seen and the spectator.’ Nicolaus Copernicus, On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Ed., Stephen Hawking, Running Press, Philadelphia, 2002, 12

But the spectator did not figure in his hypothesis itself: ‘For the daily revolution appears to carry the whole universe along, with the exception of the Earth (my emphasis) and the things around it. And if you admit that the heavens possess none of this movement but that the Earth (my emphasis) turns from west to east, you will find – if you make a serious examination – that as regards the apparent rising and setting of the sun, moon, and stars the case is so. And since it is the heavens which contain and embrace all things as the place common to the universe, it will not be clear at once why movement should not be assigned to the contained rather than to the container, to the thing placed rather than to the thing providing the place.’ (12-13)

Not only – going beyond Kant’s noumenal barrier (and, most significantly, towards acquisition of knowledge of the world) – was careful observation crucial to Copernicus’ hypothesis: ‘Having recorded three positions of the planet Jupiter and evaluated them in this way, we shall set up three others in their place, which we observed with greatest care at the solar oppositions of Jupiter’ (291), not only was he entirely comfortable with appearances, repeatedly referring to them and setting out the means for counteracting them: ‘For in order to perceive this by sense with the help of artificial instruments, by means of which the job can be done best, it is necessary to have a wooden square prepared, or preferably a square made from some other more solid material, from stone or metal; for the wood might not stay in the same condition on account of some alteration in the atmosphere and might mislead the observer’ (61), he dealt with the reciprocal relationships between sun, earth and moon, irrespective of which body was moving: ‘It is of no importance if we take up in an opposite fashion what others have demonstrated by means of a motionless earth and a giddy world and race with them toward the same goal, since things related reciprocally happen to be inversely in harmony with one another’ (60), even writing ‘And for this reason we can call the former movement of the sun – to use the common expression – the regular and simple movement’ (161).


The Sage of Königsberg steps forth: ‘it is clearly shown, that if I remove the thinking subject the whole corporeal world must at once vanish: it is nothing save an appearance in the sensibility of our subject and a mode of its representations’ (Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, op. cit., 354).

Sapere aude…

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Note

1. Bertrand Russell wrote that Kant should have ‘spoken of a “Ptolemaic counter-revolution (my italics)”, since he put man back at the centre from which Copernicus had dethroned him..’ Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1948, 9, in Paul Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1996, 3. Kant’s calculated nonsense was replicated by A.C.Ewing ‘“Just as Copernicus taught that the movement round the earth which men had ascribed to the sun was only an appearance due to our own movement,” stated Ewing, “so Kant taught that space and time which men had ascribed to reality were only appearances due to ourselves. The parallel is correct.”’ Ibid. Space is the objective distribution of matter, time (not the measure of time) is the objective movement of matter in space. Space, time, matter and motion (all objective) are inseparable. Kant’s crucial spectator with their consciousness is the product of these.

The philosophy of Plotinus: part five

 

Movement and rest in ‘thought’, the most intense activity and stillness in unity

Intellect is both thought (thinking being, ‘that which primarily thinks’)1 and the objects of its creation existing in the realm of thought.2 It is eternal mind and absolute living Being.3 It contains a finite totality of non-sensory, interpenetrating beings which are both Forms and intelligences,4 and is the highest knowable reality, majestic and beautiful. It

‘…might be likened to a living sphere teeming with variety, to a globe of faces radiant with faces all living…with Intellect enthroned over all so that the place entire glows with Intellectual splendour.’5

In Intellect, there is no past nor future, only an eternal present. Though having shape (because it contains being), and despite existing as the absolute standard of measurement, it has no extension and is beyond all bound, measure, and even spatial and numerical infinitude.6 It is infinite power.

By an intensely active and stationary wandering within itself, in the universe of ‘the Meadow of Truth’,7 Intellect produces its act – everlasting Being.8 Motion (both in a creative outpouring and towards the Good, and the attainment of self-knowledge) enables the former, rest sustains the latter.9 The existence and movement of Intellect lie in the ceaseless diversity of its production.10

The lower activity of Intellect falls short of lasting unity, contemplating (thinking and looking at) the objects of its creation. As the creator of All, Intellect is unity-in-multiplicity – a unity of thought and Forms, a reflection of the whole within the part, an identicality of the whole and the part – of  thought, being and life.

‘(In) the true and first universe (of Intellect)…each part is not cut off from the whole; but the whole life of it and the whole intellect lives and thinks all together in one, and makes the part the whole and all bound in friendship with itself, since one part is not separated from another and has not become merely other, estranged from the rest…And since it is everywhere one and complete at every point it stays still and knows no alteration; for it does not make as one thing acting upon another. For what reason could it have for making, since it is deficient in nothing?’11

In a going outwards, the multiplicity of Intellect is a dissipation of self. In its higher activity – eternally loving and desiring its prior12 – and in its return, Intellect is above multiplicity. With Forms at rest, it approaches and unites in direct awareness with its source, the Good. In this process, thought (active actuality) is the bringing to completion of something prior to thought, and within it.

‘For it has something to think about because there is something else before it; and when it thinks itself it is in a way comprehending what it had from the vision of another in itself.’13

We are each an intelligible universe. Thus, to attain (or more precisely, return) to Intellect,14 because it is independent of our lower nature and the outward, we must leave the sensory world behind. Yet we can know it almost like an object of sense.15

Unlike sensation, which can only give knowledge of the images of objects existing independently of it and individually, knowledge in Intellect is undifferentiated from the object, because the objects exist as a partless unity-in-multiplicity, in which movement is both thought and primary, real and living substance. Thought cannot exist without this movement.16 The act of intellection requires the identity of subject, immaterial object and (movement in) the act of knowing.

‘The Intellectual-Principle is not something taking cognisance of things as sensation deals with sense objects existing independently of sense: on the contrary, it actually is the things it knows: it does not merely possess their images or representations: whence could it have taken them? No: it resides with its objects, identical with them, making a unity with them: knowledge of the immaterial is universally identical with its objects.’17

These objects are not abstractions but are concrete reality. Proof of their truth is neither necessary nor possible.18

Part five/to be continued…

Notes

1. II,9.1. In MacKenna’s translation, ‘Intellectual-Principle’ is the first emanation from the Good and is manifested in every Form. The term refers to the creative element of Divine Mind or Divine Intelligence. Plotinus defined thinking as a soul’s ‘…kind of seeking its substance and its self and what made it, and…in turning back in its contemplation and recognising itself it is at that point rightly and properly Intellect…’ VI,7.37.

2. IV,8.3

3. Cf. Timaeus 31B1 and 39E7-9

4. Each Form, as being and intellect, is both one and a composite of many parts existing prior to it. Consistent with Platonism, Plotinus understood the Forms to be the thoughts of God (see V,9.7). He used the metaphor of a circle and its radii to explain the multiplicity of beings in the universe of Mind: ‘Often for the purpose of exposition – as a help towards stating the nature of the produced multiplicity – we use the example of many lines radiating from one centre; but while we provide for individualisation we must carefully preserve mutual presence. Even in the case of our circle we need not think of separated radii; all may be taken as forming one surface: where there is no distinction even upon the one surface but all is power and reality undifferentiated, all the beings may be thought of as centres uniting at one central centre: we ignore the radial lines and think of their terminals at that centre, where they are at one. Restore the radii; once more we have lines, each touching a generating centre of its own, but that centre remains coincident with the one first centre; the centres all unite in that first centre and yet remain what they were, so that they are as many as are the lines to which they serve as terminals; the centres themselves appear as numerous as the lines starting from them and yet all those centres constitute a unity.
Thus we may liken the Intellectual Beings in their diversity to many centres coinciding with the one centre and themselves at one in it but appearing multiple on account of the radial lines – lines which do not generate the centres but merely lead to them. The radii, thus, afford a serviceable illustration for the mode of contact by which the Intellectual Unity manifests itself as multiple and multipresent.’ VI,5.5. For Plotinus, the bodies of the celestial living beings are spherical. Although Plotinus held that the Form of man exists in Intellect as a universal, in some sections of the Enneads, counter to traditional Platonic doctrine, he allowed the existence of Forms of individuals (see V,7). Thus we are each the All. ‘…to become Intellect does not involve the destruction or absorption of the particular personality but its return to its perfect archetypal reality…’ Armstrong, op. cit., vol. I, xxii. The universe of Intellect contains or in a sense is all particular minds or intelligences.

5. VI,7.15. Intellect is a ‘bulkless power’ in us, beyond sense-perception, ‘standing on itself, no feeble shadowy thing but the most living and intelligent of all, than which nothing is livelier or more intelligent or more substantial…’ VI,6.8. ‘…the perfect life, the true, real life, is in that transcendent intelligible reality, and…other lives are incomplete, traces of life, not perfect or pure and no more life than its opposite.’  I,4.3. Being and beauty are identical.

6. Because thought is common to all and is not physical, it has no need of these qualities. The unity of real beings would not be possible otherwise. Similarly, we all share the same Good.

7. Of the intelligible Plotinus wrote there is an ‘…endlessness for ever welling up in it, the unwearying and unwearing nature which in no way falls short in it, boiling over with life…’ VI,5.12. ‘Beings could not exist save by the activity of Intellectual-Principle; wandering down every way it produces thing after thing, but wandering always within itself in such self-bound wandering as authentic Intellect may know; this wandering permitted to its nature is among real beings which keep pace with its movement; but it is always itself; this is a stationary wandering, a wandering within ‘the Meadow of Truth’ from which it does not stray.
It holds and covers the universe which it has made the space, so to speak, of its movement, itself being also that universe which is space to it. And this Meadow of Truth is varied for that movement through it may be possible; suppose it not always and everywhere varied, the failing of diversity is a failure of movement; failure in movement would mean a failing of the Intellectual Act; halting, it has ceased to exercise its Intellectual Act; this ceasing, it ceases to be.
The Intellectual-Principle is the Intellectual Act; its movement is complete, filling Being complete; and the entire of Being is the Intellectual Act entire, comprehending all life and the unfailing succession of things. Because this Principle contains Identity with Difference its division is ceaselessly bringing the different things to life. Its entire movement is through life and among living things. To a traveller over land all is earth but earth abounding in difference: so in this journey the life through which Intellectual-Principle passes is one life but, in its ceaseless changing, a varied life.’ VI,7.13. The ‘Meadow of Truth’ is from Phaedrus 248B. Plotinus’ usage of the Greek for ‘wandering’ (pláne), applied to the life of Intellect, is from Parmenides 136E. The ‘planes’ of ‘Analytical’ Cubism can be analysed from this perspective. Real numbers (of which quantitative numbers are an image) are prior to and generate beings. They are also a particular kind of beings and forms with the same reality and causative power as other Forms. (Armstrong) Number is a structuring principle in the intelligible world and the Forms can be considered as a system of quasi-mathematical formulae, which project themselves onto Matter to produce the multiplicity of the physical world. (J. Dillon in his Introduction to Plotinus, The Enneads, Third ed., Abridged. Trans. S. MacKenna. op.cit.).

8. ‘Intellect, to act at all, must inevitably comport difference with identity; otherwise it could not distinguish itself from its object by standing apart from it, nor could it ever be aware of the realm of things whose existence demands otherness, nor could there be so much as a duality.’ VI,7.39. Plotinus defined being as the self-directed activity of thought. ‘The Being of Intellect, therefore, is activity, and there is nothing to which the activity is directed; so it is self-directed. Thinking itself, it is thus with itself and holds its activity directed to itself.’ V,3.7. Being is an image, but of an original so great that the very copy stands as a reality.

9. ‘(Intellect) is both at rest and in motion; for it moves around Him [the Good]. So, then, the universe, too, both moves in its circle and is at rest.’ II,2.3. Plotinus also referred to the ‘static activity’ of Intellect.  II,9.1.

10. ‘…we must think of it as a quiet, unwavering motion; containing all things and being all things, it is a multiple but at once indivisible and comporting difference.’ VI,9.5. Multiplicity in Intellect is not evil because Intellect is unified. Since Intellect has multiplicity, it is less than the One.

11. III,2.1. Also ‘From everything which has been said this is perfectly clear, that each thing in the All, according to how it is in nature and disposition, contributes to the All and is acted upon and acts, just as in each individual living thing each of the parts, according to how it is in nature and condition, contributes to the whole and serves its purposes and has its own proper rank and utility; it gives what comes from it and receives as much of what comes from the others as its nature is capable of receiving; and all has a kind of common awareness of all; and if each of the parts was a living being, it would have functions as a living being different from its functions as a part.’ IV,4.45. ‘Intellect is many, intelligible, intelligent and in motion because it thinks and each thought, to be a thought, must be something multiply various – i.e. in Intellect, thought thinks of another. Substance thinks in Intellect, but the greatest substance (the Good) stands still in majesty since it transcends thought….Thinking brings substance into being. Thinking is a power of generation itself. Thought and substance are the same things. The Good is beyond substance and thought and is alone by itself with no need of the things which come from it. it did not act before it generated activity, nor did it think before it generated thought. There is no thought in the Good itself, otherwise the Good would be in a unity with that which is less than it. Thus thought and substance are together.’ Armstrong, op. cit., vol. VII, 209-211.

12. I.e. Formless Form. ‘…in Intellect there is desire and a movement to convergence with its form.’  III,8.11. Intellect always needs, desires and attains the Good; but the Good, as the one productive power, needs nothing.

13. VI,7.40

14. Plotinus believed we must first acquire the moral and intellectual perfection necessary to attain Intellect before aspiring to the One. He referred to both the One and Intellect as God. For example, we originally existed in Intellect, in which some were even gods: ‘…pure souls and intellect united with the whole of reality…’. VI, 4.14. ‘But if someone is able to turn around, either by himself or having the good luck to have his hair pulled by Athene herself, he will see God and himself and the All…’ VI,5.7.

15. VI,9.5

16. ‘But if someone were to say that “in immaterial things the knowledge and the thing are the same”, one must understand what is said in the sense that it does not mean that the knowledge is the thing nor the reason contemplating the thing the thing itself, but the other way round, that the thing itself when it is without matter is object of thought and thought, not thought in the sense of being a definition of the thing or an intuition of it, but the thing itself in the intelligible is nothing else but intellect and knowledge. For the knowledge is not directed to itself, but the thing there makes the knowledge, which does not stay like the knowledge of a thing in matter, to be different: that is, makes it true knowledge: that is, not an image of the thing but the thing itself. So the thought of movement has not made absolute movement, but absolute movement has made the thought of it, so that it has made itself as movement and thought; for movement there is also the thought of that thing itself, and it itself is movement, because it is the first movement – for there is no other before it – and real movement, because it is not incidental to something else, but is the active actuality of what is moved, which exists in actuality. So, again, it is substance…’ VI,6.6. ‘…if it (Intellect) stands still, it does not think; so that if it came to a standstill, it has not thought; but if this is so, it does not even exist. It is, then, thought; that is, all movement filling all substance, and all substance is all thought encompassing all life…’ VI,7.13.

17. V,4.2. Plato argued for the same pathway to unity with real Being. By developing the divine within us – ‘thought’ in its movement – we can unite our understanding with what is understood. ‘There is of course only one way to look after anything and that is to give it its proper food and motions. And the motions that are akin to the divine in us are the thoughts and revolutions of the universe. We should each therefore attend to these motions and by learning about the harmonious circuits of the universe repair the damage done at birth to the circuits in our head, and so restore understanding and what is understood to their original likeness to each other. When that is done we shall have achieved the goal set us by the gods…’ Timaeus 48, 90. The One’s inability to see itself as external is the supersession of intellection. Plotinus made frequent use of the metaphor of light to express the unity of the subject and the object of contemplation: ‘…shining down upon all, the light of godlike Intellection.’ I,6.5.

18. The real beings of Intellect exist in the ‘thinking’ subject. ‘In its (Intellect’s) thinking, then, there is activity and motion, and in its thinking itself, substance and being: for, existing, it thinks itself as existent…’ VI,2.8.

The Lucky Country – part six: the shame of Australians and its variants

 

‘The Cringe – new variants of the virus’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 28.09.95

This is the edited text of a speech Frank Moorhouse gave at a Herald-Dymocks Literary Lunch, which he abandoned after interjections from the floor.

As most of you know, until recently, I lived in France for four years and my new book, Loose Living, is a humorous expression of that experience. Fun and games with the French and the Australian identity.

Until my period in France, I spent most of my life living in Australia and I live here now.

It was then something of a perplexing shock that my last book, Grand Days, was rejected from the most Australian of prizes, the Miles Franklin Prize last year.

The poor old Miles Franklin Prize has been having a rough time of it, with the Demidenko affair and all.

But I believe that the actions of the judges have exposed a sad turmoil in Australian thinking in the wider population. Because the judges will not enter into public discourse about their decisions, we can only surmise and speculate about the nature of their reasoning.

This is what I surmise from their actions.

In rejecting Grand Days and the other two books last year, the judges were struggling with a mutation of the cultural cringe.

I wish to discuss this mutation later in this talk. But it is a desire to promote a narrow form of Australianness and to spurn anything which has the whiff of cosmopolitanism which is seen as an author turning his or her back on [his or] her native country.

With Grand Days we have a character, Edith Campbell Berry, who goes to Geneva to join the League of Nations in the 1920s and is consciously trying to be an “internationalist” in both the political and cultural sense.

She is self-consciously striving to be cosmopolitan. She is an Australian refashioning herself in many ways.

But Edith also represented Australia and its attempts to come to terms diplomatically with being a nation state.

The deeper irony is that the book is also about borders and the crossing of borders and the meaning of borders, national and other, and identity.

The judges of the Miles Franklin recoiled from this and disqualified the book.

Again I think the authorial context influenced them in my case, as it did with the Demidenko affair.

When the book was published I was still living in France, preparing to return to Australia and I was widely reported as living there at the time of publication of the book.

The most common question I had from people when I did come back was “are you going to live here or go back to France?”

Naturally, the Miles Franklin judges had this picture of me living in a chateau and eating my way through fine dinners, enjoying the finer things of life.

Not only was the book to be damned for its un-Australianness but the author was suspected of cultural treason as well.

The judges, I speculate, decided that this was not only a book about cosmopolitanism and not about Australia, but that the author was committing cultural treason.

The judges this year had learned something of a lesson from this media debate about what it meant, now, to be an Australian writer. Times had changed.

This year they must have decided that they had learned their lesson and that Australia was a multicultural and sophisticated nation and that they would show their own cosmopolitan tastes in selecting Helen Demidenko’s book, The Hand that Signed the Paper, because it was written from the viewpoint of a Ukrainian family living in Australia.

It was about this family’s history before them came to Australia in the Ukraine during World War II.

Only one judge has spoken out and she praised the book for its “authenticity” among other things.

Then of course, it turns out not to be by someone of Ukrainian descent but, in fact, a literary hoax.

The judges of the Miles Franklin were in even deeper trouble. With Grand Days they were tripped up by a variant of the cultural cringe that is the urge to spurn the cosmopolitan.

With the Demidenko affair they went in the opposite direction and were caught by what I would call multicultural cringe – they were transfixed by the exotic and foreign, held like rabbits in the headlights of a car; their aesthetics and their perception were blinded.

Some commentators raise the question of the possibility that multicultural art had become something of a fashion preferred above that of the older mainstream Anglo culture.

Whatever else was illustrated by this double disaster for the judges of Miles Franklin, it certainly showed that their judgement was seriously limited in the first case, then destabilised and erratic in the following year.

But the double controversy might tell us something about ourselves at present.

Since returning to Australia, I have come across an intellectual virus hitherto thought to have been eradicated in all but the most remote parts of Australia.

I have come across an unacknowledged resentment and suspicion of what might be described as cultural “treason” by Australians in the arts who leave Australia for significant periods and who write about matters technically outside the national border or who write about unacceptable themes.

As I have said, what we are witnessing is the reappearance of the dreaded cultural cringe, a virus thought to have been eradicated from the anatomy of the nation, together with the multicultural cringe.

The examples I have found are gruesome mutations of the original virus.

For those too young to have heard the term “cultural cringe”, it is attributed to critic A.A. Phillips, who said in 1950 that, “Above our writers – and other artists – looms the intimidating mass of Anglo-Saxon culture. Such a situation almost inevitably produces the characteristic Australian Cultural Cringe”.

We no longer admit to being awed into silence by the greater cultures and our English language heritage but there are other mutations of the same parent virus.

I have been approached by some writers of the younger generation asking whether the virus still existed, and what should they do with their lives if they think they have it.

A significant group of young Australian writers and thinkers now live in the US. People such as Joanna Murray Smith, writer Catherine Lumby, Fiona Giles, Susan Johnston, Peter Carey, and Lily Brett.

As some of these have expressed it to me, there is still an uneasiness which lies within those Australians who have global aspirations.

I have identified it as Virus Variant A,  Agitated Expatriate.

The symptoms are as follows: the person who is contemplating living and working elsewhere (especially in the arts) experiences an immobilising dizziness accompanied by the recurring incertitude, What-dreadful-things-will-happen-to-me-if-I-don’t-come-back-to-Australia?

Will my creative well dry up if I stay away? Or will it, conversely, dry up if I don’t stay away? Or will it be contaminated?

This is not the pure cultural cringe but a new variant of it.

Phillips himself pronounced the term cultural cringe dead in 1983. “It is time,” he said, “to accord the phrase decent burial before the smell of the corpse gets too high…”

This new variant does not say we are not good enough. It says Australia may not be right for me (or not good enough for me) and if I say this, or even think it, I will be severely punished.

That Phillips should be alive today, to smell the corpse now as we stand in the graveyard of ideas, in the light rain, while gumbooted cemetery workers dig in the clay to exhume the stinking, twitching body, prematurely buried, still alive and thumping in its coffin, fuelled by rancid nutrients of a unidentifiable foul kind.

It is tissue taken from a recent study of Peter Goldsworthy by Andrew Riemer.

“The sense is inescapable,” says Andrew, “…that they (Australian writers) are dissatisfied by the limited scope the society (Australia) which they must reflect in their writings offers for the contemplation of the larger questions of existence and of the manifestations of good and evil…”

That is, Australian society is deficient in its capacity to supply good and evil in sufficient quality. Existentially lacking.

I am saddened to say that, on the surface, this is an example of the cultural cringe of the older parent strain identified by Phillips in 1950.

But, on further examination, it may be trickier than that and I will come back to it later.

Another recent specimen was from The Sydney Morning Herald where a columnist commented on the absence of David Malouf from a literary award presentation.

She says, “…the author is currently sojourning at his Tuscan home.”

The use of the words “currently” and “sojourning” are wink words used to suggest a leisurely occupation in foreign parts free of any considerations about what might be happening back here in Australia.

The use of the words “Tuscan home” also implicates David. The word Tuscan is redolent with exotic superiority. And isn’t “Australia” the only “home” an Australian can have?

The next specimen was from The Australian in a review of the book of Contemporary South Pacific Stories edited by C.K. Stead.

One Pacific writer, Ihimaera, had evidently withdrawn from the book, complaining about the integrity or whatever of the selection for the book.

In turn, Stead, the editor of the book, attacked Ihimaera for creating the “spectacle of…protecting Pacific values by fax from the south of France”.

Elizabeth Webby, in reviewing this book, comments that the implication is that Ihimaera is “an expatriate enjoying the good life in France”.

However, Elizabeth goes on to “excuse” Ihimaera from this charge with the defence that he is, in fact, in Menton as the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellow, living that is, holed up in a little piece of New Zealand in France, so to speak.

Another specimen from Daniel Dasey in The Sydney Morning Herald. “Artist Arthur Boyd says while he may spend much of his time overseas, there should be no doubting where his heart lies. The Australian of the Year defended (sic) his long stays in Britain… ‘I do live here, I just like to go away from time to time,’ he said.”

The headline of the piece says “Boyd’s art is in the right place”.

This and the Ihimaera and Malouf specimens were identified by our laboratory as Virus Variant B, The Unhappy Ones Who Are Stuck Here.

The symptoms of this virus are as follows. The sufferer experiences a profound sense of disease on reading about expatriate fellow nationals.

Are they having a better life? Are they meeting famous and wonderful people who will advance their career and enrich their life while I am back here working away in the blazing Australian sun?

Further, the sufferer is then gripped by an uncontrollable rage that the absent fellow national, by living in a desirable foreign environment, is committing a cultural treason; the expatriate has escaped from the limitations of Australian life; that the fellow national, that is, is not back here putting up with the hell of it all on the frontier, is not helping to Build the Culture.

This rage I think shows up in my next specimen: an advertisement for the Australia Council’s Creative Arts Fellowships which has been changed to specify that the recipient “must spend most of their time in Australia”.

So now if you’re going to get any funding, there’s no way you’re going to go over and have the good life in France – so forget it.

Audience member: Excuse me Frank. I know this is a bit rude…I shared your disappointment of the Grand Days [being disqualified from the 1994 Miles Franklin Award]. I came to your last luncheon, I bought your book. I suffered as you did when you didn’t win [the Miles Franklin]. But I feel we don’t want to hear what’s going on. If you’re not happy to be in Australia…

(Applause from some members of the audience.)

Moorhouse:

Well, I think I would read this as touching a nerve…first of all, I’d like to say I live here and I’ve lived here 50 years; that I have to say this is just ridiculous.

What I was doing was teasing out and analysing some interesting examples of things that are going on in Australian cultural life which reflect in such things as the Miles Franklin.

But I accept the complaints from this table at least, and some of the others, that I have somehow lost your interest.

It’s certainly not a whinge, its a piece of analysis, which, as I think this rough interruption shows, I think has touched a nerve.

At this point, Moorhouse took questions from the audience. That part of his speech which remained undelivered is as follows:

This is Virus Variant C, You will Remain Seated: Do Not Attempt To Leave.

The sufferer experiences these symptoms: the dread that one by one anyone who is any good is leaving the country and that those who are left will be seen as second-rate, poor cousins in the cultural world.

In their head the sufferers hear someone saying, Will-the-last-to-leave-please-turn-off-the-lights.

In the Australia Council and other arts funding bodies there arises the possibility that policies can be developed to stop anyone leaving. “If we have our way, no-one will get out.”

These variants of the virus have created an atmosphere where those Australians who have chosen to live abroad and make their careers there, are, upon returning to Australia on a visit, made to swear loyalty oaths before they are received, applauded or rewarded.

As with the parent virus, all the mutations are spawned by the simple fact of being born in Australia, a country which, on the maps, is Stuck Down Here.

I want to sum up and return to the Riemer Case – that writers in Australia have to look elsewhere because the quality of good and evil is insufficient in Australia.

It could very well be an example of a benign strain. What could be teased out of what Andrew is saying is that Australian culture is historically deficient by being Stuck Down Here but that we can, without resentment or despair, and with objective cultural sophistication, now acknowledge our deficiencies and still get on with living a good enough cultural life.

That the cultivated life lies in the grace, art and entertainment we deploy so as to incorporate our deficiencies into our national personality.

Whether we would have been better if we had lived elsewhere, can never be tested.

This brings us next to the cases of Boyd, Ihimaera and Malouf. In this I see, obliquely, some faint hope of a cure.

More often these days, in interviews and at dinner parties, I hear people remark that ideally they would like to be able to say, “I share my time between my apartment in Manhattan and a humpy in the Flinders Ranges.”

That seems increasingly to be an acceptable sort of thing to say.

I have a warning. It is still not acceptable to say that as soon as I can arrange it I am getting the hell out of here for good.

While the parent virus may not be endemic, an assortment of strains are (many more than identified in this talk!) and that even being frequently conscious of the existence of these matters is a type of infection.

We must give those entering the arts the chance to develop either here or where they feel they need to go. Australia is enriched by their work wherever it is made.

The aim may be to turn the wound to a thing of beauty. But for as long as it is asked, it remains a serious question.

I can only advise that, as a general rule, all those in the arts practise Unsafe Art until further notice.

And remember that all successful expatriates are, in the end, possessively reclaimed by their mother country.

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The Lucky Country – part five: the luck of a laid-back, happy people is getting squeezed

 

Peter Hartcher, ‘China vents its anger at Australia’s stand on airspace rights’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 03.12.13

China is angry at Australia, and when the doors closed on the meeting room in Canberra on Friday, its delegates let the anger show. The third annual Australia-China Forum was designed to strengthen the relationship. Instead, the Chinese used it to pressure Australia.

They had a specific grievance: the government’s rejection of Beijing’s announcement that it was asserting new rights over airspace in the East China Sea.

But they quickly turned the specific into the general, a full-court fusillade of complaints and urgings.

It was an illustration, a case study and a premonition of the difficulty at the heart of Australia’s relationship with its biggest trading partner.

What started the ructions was Beijing’s abrupt announcement on November 23 that all aircraft flying over the islands subject to its dispute with Japan needed to give prior notice to authorities or risk “emergency defensive measures”.

The new air defence identification zone not only covered the disputed islands that the Japanese call the Senkaku and the Chinese call the Diaoyu, it also overlapped the existing air defence identification zones of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

These three last week rejected Beijing’s authority to make such a declaration without consultation.

So did the US. Flouting China’s claim, it immediately flew two B-52 bombers unhindered through the zone without notifying Beijing.

China had committed a “destabilising attempt to alter the status quo in the region,” US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said.

It was now in an invidious position – it was taking criticism from the rest of world for being provocative, and from its citizens at home for being impotent.

Australia objected to China’s declaration of the zone too, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said, because Canberra was opposed to “any coercive or unilateral actions to change the status quo in the East China Sea”.

China’s foreign affairs ministry countered by urging “the Australian side to immediately correct its mistakes so as to avoid hurting the co-operative relationship between China and Australia”.

Rather than correct its position, Australia reaffirmed it. Asked for his view by a reporter, Tony Abbott said: “We are a strong ally of the US, we are a strong ally of Japan, we have a very strong view that international disputes should be settled peacefully.”

Chinese officials believed the Prime Minister had escalated the disagreement merely by restating the government’s position.

The opening session of the Australia-China Forum took place the next morning at the Australian National University.

Ostensibly, it was devoted to “advancing the strategic partnership” struck between Julia Gillard and Chinese President Xi Jinping in April. Instead, the Chinese delegates used it to challenge the value of the partnership.

The forum is a so-called “one-and-a-half track” initiative. This means it’s a meeting between the two governments – the one track – but broadened to include non-officials such as business people, retired officials, academics and journalists, comprising the half-track.

China sent 19 delegates; four were serving or former ambassadors, one of whom was also a retiree at the vice-premier level. They wield little direct power in Beijing, yet all are influential.

Australia’s 31 delegates included two serving cabinet ministers, three former cabinet ministers, and three serving senior officials.

Six of the Chinese spoke in the first session; of these, five challenged Australia’s strategic stance. The sixth emphasised the strength of the trade link: the two economies were “cut out for each other”.

As a participant, I’m permitted to report what was said but not to identify who said it, the Chatham House rule.

The first Chinese strike was directed at Australia’s alliance with the US: “The Sino-American relationship has many high and lows but you may not be clear on just how good it is.

“The Americans sometimes want to put pressure on us so they ask their friends to put pressure on us. When they do, you should sit down and think about it.” The US, the Chinese speaker said, frequently changed its approach to Asia policy, and “Australians need to realise the Americans change what they say without thinking about other people’s interests.”

In other words, if it were merely an American lapdog, Australia could end up alienating China only to be abandoned by its US master.

The second Chinese speaker said the relationship with Australia hinged on strategic trust; with it, there would be a cinematic ending of the Crocodile Dundee type, with two loving partners living happily ever after. Without it, there would be a Thorn Birds-style outcome, ending in tears.

The third said the conception of America as the strategic ally and China as the primary economic partner was wrong-headed; China and the US were both important to regional security. If Australia wanted a strategic partnership with China, it had to include both security and economic aspects.

The fourth called on Australia to beware a growing bellicosity in Japan, and urged Canberra to persuade Tokyo to change its position.

The fifth sought to relegate Australia’s US alliance to history. It was “a product of the Cold War,” he said. And although China would not normally offer its view on Australia’s alliances, it now was affecting China’s “core interests, its sovereignty and its territorial interests”.

This is a tough critique, claiming that Australia’s US alliance infringes on China’s sovereignty.

This speaker went on to hold out a “dream” of China’s relations with Australia, with trade trebling, tourism booming, young people moving freely between the two countries. But he said the dream had a long way to go.

And the responses? The Australians were on the defensive. Some firmly defended the US alliance. Some assured that Australia acted in its own interests, not America’s. One challenged the Chinese to explain what they were doing to ease the tensions. Some tried to change the subject.

But the Chinese were single-minded. And their plans to ease the escalations in their border disputes? They had nothing to say.

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Lenin – “matter has disappeared”: part one

 

Materialism and idealism differ in their answers to the question of the source of our knowledge and of the relation of knowledge (and of the “mental” in general) to the physical world; while the question of the structure of matter, of atoms and electrons, is a question that concerns only this “physical world”. When the physicists say “matter disappears” they mean that hitherto science reduced its investigations of the physical world to three ultimate concepts: matter, electricity and ether; now only the two latter remain. For it has become possible to reduce matter to electricity; the atom can be explained as resembling an infinitely small solar system, within which negative electrons move around a positive electron with a definite (and, as we have seen, enormously large) velocity. It is consequently possible to reduce the physical world from scores of elements to two or three elements (inasmuch as positive and negative electrons constitute “two essentially distinct kinds of matter”, as the physicist Pellat says – Rey, op. cit., pp. 294-95). Hence, natural science leads to the “unity of matter” (ibid.) – such is the real meaning of the statement about the disappearance of matter, its replacement by electricity, etc., which is leading so many people astray. “Matter disappears” means that the limit within which we have hitherto known matter disappears and that our knowledge is penetrating deeper; properties of matter are likewise disappearing which formerly seemed absolute, immutable, and primary (impenetrability, inertia, mass,1 etc.) and which are now revealed to be relative and characteristic only of certain states of matter. For the sole “property” of matter with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside the mind.

The error of Machism in general, as of the Machist new physics, is that it ignores this basis of philosophical materialism and the distinction between metaphysical materialism and dialectical materialism. The recognition of immutable elements, “of the immutable essence of things”, and so forth, is not materialism, but metaphysical, i.e., anti-dialectical, materialism. That is why J. Dietzgen emphasised that the “subject-matter of science is endless”, that not only the infinite, but the “smallest atom” is immeasurable, unknowable to the end, inexhaustible, “for nature in all her parts has no beginning and no end” (Kleinere philosophische Schriften, S. 229-30). That is why Engels gave the example of the discovery of alizarin in coal tar and criticised mechanical materialism. In order to present the question in the only correct way, that is, from the dialectical materialist standpoint, we ask: Do electrons, ether and so on exist as objective realities outside the human mind or not? The scientists will also have to answer this question unhesitatingly; and they do invariably answer it in the affirmative, just as they unhesitatingly recognise that nature existed prior to man and prior to organic matter. Thus, the question is decided in favour of materialism, for the concept matter, as we already stated, epistemologically implies nothing but objective reality existing independently of the human mind and reflected by it.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, pp. 240-246

Part one/to be continued…

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Note

1. This refers apparently to mechanical mass, which classical physics regarded as an eternal and unchanging property of matter.

Text, with minor errors, at:
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1908/mec/five2.htm#v14pp72h-258

Former World Bank Staffer Explains How Neoliberalism Is Destroying The World — Desultory Heroics

By Dylan Charles Source: Waking Times More destructive than bombs, money has become the weapon of choice for the global elite, for the hidden hand of finance can plunder and conquer entire nations, assimilate whole cultures, exploit resources and rape the earth while forcing billions into poverty, all with the surprising stealth of pen-strokes and […]

via Former World Bank Staffer Explains How Neoliberalism Is Destroying The World — Desultory Heroics

I highly recommend the speech by Peter Koenig. Note towards the end of it where he kept being interrupted by the person next to him, resulting in Koenig asking ‘Why are you so strict with me when you were not with others who spoke longer than me?’

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Hegel on contradiction: part four

 

…internal self-movement proper, instinctive urge in general, (the appetite or nisus of the monad, the entelechy of absolutely simple essence), is nothing else but the fact that something is, in one and the same respect, self-contained and deficient, the negative of itself. Abstract self-identity is not as yet a livingness, but the positive, being in its own self a negativity, goes outside itself and undergoes alteration. Something is therefore alive only in so far as it contains contradiction within it, and moreover is this power to hold and endure the contradiction within it. But if an existent in its positive determination is at the same time incapable of reaching beyond its negative determination and holding the one firmly in the other, is incapable of containing contradiction within it, then it is not the living unity itself, not ground, but in the contradiction falls to the ground. Speculative thinking consists solely in the fact that thought holds fast contradiction, and in it, its own self, but does not allow itself to be dominated by it as in ordinary thinking, where its determinations are resolved by contradiction only into other determinations or into nothing.


G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, pp. 440-441

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Part four/to be continued…

The immaculate is made maculate

IssTransit_Poupeau_960

The space station crosses a spotless sun

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The lucky country: part four

 

Donald Horne, The Lucky Country – Australia in the Sixties, Angus and Robertson, 1965 (first published in 1964)

p. 194 ‘It is of interest that intellectuals – who almost universally oppose censorship of the kind of books that they themselves want to read – hardly ever deplore the censorship of ordinary people’s reading matter, and sometimes even support it.’

‘Although Australia is one of the most prosperous countries in the world it runs only fifteenth in percentage of G.N.P. spent on education.’

209 ‘in Australia, as a strong and publicly influential type of person. “intellectuals” do not exist…People who might be described as intellectuals are assuming enormous importance almost everywhere in the world except in Australia. It seems unlikely that such a situation will last in Australia. In fact it is now changing.’

210 Horne wrote of ‘creative intelligences’ with ‘new visions’ who have been frustrated in a society whose structure does not allow for the concept of originality’

Horne wrote that where Australia has been weak in matters of intellect has been in a lack of serious consideration of human destiny and in prolonged consideration of the Australian condition.

213 ‘What is lacking among Australians is a real feel for the history of the human race, and a sense of belonging to a long-lasting intellectual community that reaches its great moments when it seeks out in wonder towards the mysteries of its environment, that has concerned itself with more momentous problems than the nature of Australia but whose present members could well take this question up in the light of the history of human knowledge.’

‘it is Australians’ failure to understand the tragic (or the comic) in life that may place them at a disadvantage in a world in which happiness is largely still hard to achieve. It is as if a ‘cultured’ Australian rejects the Australian concept of happiness because it is not in the culture he has ‘learned’; at the same time he is still sufficiently a ‘happy’ Australian not to absorb the reality of horror and tragedy in the culture he has ‘learned’. He is declasse, unable to talk to other Australians of the culture he has ‘learned’ because he lacks a real feel for both it and his own society.’
Australians know how fragile their concept of ‘happiness’ is, how easily it could be lost, as it has been before (in the Depressions of the 1890s and 1930s and the two world wars). This knowledge gives their ‘innocence’ a mean and determined edge (e.g. in their response to asylum seekers and particularly to the sinking of SIEV X – 353 people drowned on the fluctuating borders of Australia. If you arrive here, quietly and without ‘drama’, as a refugee on a plane – as do the great majority – that won’t be noticed, but if you arrive desperate and dishevelled on an open, sinking boat, that is too clearly a reminder of the suffering in the world and to be opposed, rejected. The outcry in Australia over inhumane behaviour in the immediate region has been greater regarding the manner of slaughtering ‘our’ cattle in Indonesia – a nation both Asian and predominantly Islamic). Horne is correct when he wrote that ‘happiness’ is an addiction – one is addicted to it because one refuses to deal with the relentless challenges of global reality and change and because one lives in an isolated nation with the overall affluence to do so. Intellectual vision is another threat to this affluent, ‘innocent’ happiness – structured on authoritarian, unquestioning conformism. 

214 Horne writes of the Australian intellectual’s ‘addiction to happiness’

The Lucky Country: living on our luck
‘Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise. A nation more concerned with styles of life than with achievement has managed to achieve what may be the most evenly prosperous society in the world. It has done this in a social climate largely inimical to originality and the desire for excellence (except in sport) and in which there is less and less acclamation of hard work. According to the rules Australia has not deserved its good fortune.’

219 The two fields where reliance on luck are not going to work:
– Australia’s strategic environment
– the demands of technology (Australia must profoundly change its life patterns – if this does not happen, ‘the present kind of Australia will go under’)

220 ‘Will (Australia) rid itself of the belief that…nothing happens to it, that it is safe from the unpleasantness of history? Perhaps Australians are…too concerned with happiness to understand the possibilities of tragedy, projecting their illusions onto others. The possibility haunts one like a bad dream that Australians may go on being silly…’

222 ‘In most industrialised countries cleverness and skill are part of the national ethos, even if they share it with contradictory elements. In Australia they play no part in it…When most Australians think of their economic growth they think that people should work harder…a revolutionary change in attitudes towards life is needed’

‘the obsessive desire to define Australian characteristics in terms of the upsurge of the 1890’s instead of as a dynamic process…(To admit that generations can change would be to admit that a static concept of an ‘Australian’, based on the writings of the 1890’s, is false.) And the continuing dominance of old ideas..’
Excellent point – the obsessive desire to define Australia against the (loss, failure and defeats of the) past rather than as a dynamic process continues – not only with regard to Gallipoli but also the military victory of Kokoda. Australians continue to define themselves against the past instead of dynamically, in relation to the future.

224 ‘the pretence of sameness’

228 ‘the shock (when it comes) of declaring Australia a republic’

230 ‘Australia’s population problem will be solved in what may be the only way it can finally be solved – by large-scale Asian migration.’

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