All posts filed under: Literature

Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb: Arguments About the Classical Tradition

Part II: A review of The Lesbian Lyre: Reclaiming Sappho for the 21st Century by Jeffrey Duban. Clairview Books (30th June 2016). The classical tradition in literature is essentially dead. The English poet Alice Oswald may be the only prominent contemporary writer who has read deeply in Latin and Greek poetry. A few other poets (Ruth Padel, Anne Carson, Alice Stallings) have made names for themselves as classicist-poets; though their contributions to literature and scholarship have been uninspiring; their work is more often praised than read. Most of the praise comes only from Classics teachers, or others easily impressed by a thin veneer of learning. It is impossible to name a novelist, short-story writer or playwright active today who engages seriously with classical history, myth or literary form. Jeffrey Duban tries valiantly to revive the tradition in his ambitious, pugnacious, eccentric, sprawling new book The Lesbian Lyre: Reclaiming Sappho for the Twenty-First Century. This is not all Duban tries to do: he also provides a learned introduction to ancient Greek lyric poetry, offers translations of …

Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb: Arguments About the Classical Tradition

Part I: A review of Classics, The Culture Wars and Beyond by Eric Adler. University of Michigan Press (1st November 2016). Classics, the study of Greek and Latin literature, involves philosophical and historical texts as well as literary works. Classicists may also be interested in the systematic study of language and expression, and (to a lesser extent) art history and archaeology. In fact, Classics encompasses virtually every aspect of ancient Greek and Roman culture between the first Olympic Games in 776 BC and the fall of the Roman Empire in AD 476. Still, classicists have traditionally focussed their attention on Athens between 508 and 323 BC, and Rome between the mid-first century BC and the late second century AD: most of the important classical texts, monuments and works of art were created in those places during those periods. Classics requires a long training: there are two ancient languages which take years to master, and a large body of impressive but often difficult literature in Greek and Latin that cannot be avoided. If you have not …

Browsing the Tate Bookshop

In the last week of April 2017, a light squall of controversy hit the majestic ship that is Tate, Britain’s state-sponsored multi-gallery institution for British and modern art. Its Director, Nicholas Serota, was moving on (to another public art satrapy, as chair of Arts Council England) and, according to reports, staff were being asked to contribute to a leaving present, despite their low-pay, casualization and the removal of a canteen discount.  And not just any leaving present, but a sailing boat. For the staff union, it was proof that Tate management had become divorced from reality. That same week I visited Tate Britain, Tate’s original neo-classical edifice, just down the Thames from Westminster. Looking for a present for a friend I stopped off in the (extensive) shop. It would be an exaggeration to say that I felt like I’d stumbled into the Socialist Workers Party’s Bookmarks which, after all, is in the more salubrious Bloomsbury. However, the experience was striking enough for me to feel guiltless in at least suggesting the parallel. Several factors clearly …

Cultural Appropriation Isn’t Real

Just over 20 years ago, my first novel, The Hand that Signed the Paper won the Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s premier literary prize. This is an anniversary edition of sorts—although not quite. Had Ligature published it in 2015, it would have appeared while I was working as Senator David Leyonhjelm’s Senior Adviser, and provided an unwelcome distraction from my day-job (as well as a vector for more abusive letters and phone calls to make their way to David’s Sydney Electoral Office; both of us already got enough of those). However, my publisher explained that it wasn’t ideal to have a Miles Franklin Award winner out-of-print. I was unaware of the extent to which schools and universities were relying on second-hand copies. Worse, there was no electronic version available. I was effectively squatting on my own copyright. When the book first came out, I pretended to be someone I’m not: Helen Demidenko, from a Ukrainian family with links to the Nazis. In hindsight, trolling the literary establishment (and I mean trolling in the original sense — …

How French Intellectuals Lost Their Faith

As the Socialist government of François Hollande slumps into obscurity, the favourites in this year’s French presidential elections are a liberal, Emmanuel Macron, a conservative, François Fillon, and a national conservative, Marine Le Pen. Amid the usual corruption scandals is the smell of what the French call “le declinisme.“ France is a country ill-at-ease with itself. Mr Hollande plumbed record depths in his approval ratings and while Ms Le Pen is predicted to lose the elections, it is astonishing that she has so much of a shot. Populism has spread across America and Europe, of course, but what distinguishes France is the extent to which its artists and intellectuals have expressed the same concerns as its electorate. This is somewhat surprising. French intellectuals have long been at the forefront of revolutionary thought. Voltaire and Rousseau radicalised French liberal opinion in the years before the toppling of the Ancien Regime. In the 20th Century, Sartre, Althusser and Badiou promoted communism, while Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault dug into the foundations of Western culture. Their disciples led the …

The Battle over American “Carnage”

Referring in his Inaugural Address to the crime and gangs plaguing American cities, President Trump declared that “This American Carnage stops right here and stops right now.” How should we understand this statement? Anguished responses to Trump have flooded in. Slate Chief Political Correspondent Jamelle Bowie writes that “`[T]here is no broad `American Carnage.’” That notion is a “fantasy” whose purpose is “to demonize groups and protest movements organized around police reform.” Bowie goes on to report that violent crime has generally gone way down in the United States, although the murder rate rose 17% in the 50 biggest cities in 2015, with the greatest increases recorded in Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D,C,. In historical terms, Bowie concludes, “American cities are safer now that at any point since the 1960s.” A New York Times article describes an irenic environment for many black residents of Philadelphia. “Our streets are always clean,” reports one of these, “Our neighbors in our community, we know each other, and we get along. . . We got backyards, man. We go …

Are Internet Memes a New Form of Literature?

Every age has its form of literature, could the Internet meme be ours? In literature, new genres are born because of the ceaseless human quest to find new and improved modes of communication. From Donald Trump to Brexit, some of our most profound, witty and honest observations are communicated through internet memes. Used for humour, therapy, gratification and protests, memes serve the internet generation well for they are free, instantly obvious and loaded with cathartic qualities. If we analyse memes as a genre, we will find that it has more in common with traditional forms of storytelling, like fable and parable, than it has with the novel. Novel is a reflection of Capitalism in literature. It is formal, measured, commodified and portable. There is a standard version of the text, and an author to claim credit and royalties. Memes, on the other hand, are a return to fable in many ways. Just like fable, memes are community-driven, anonymously produced and open to modification. There is no need for a specialized degree or slick linguist skills …