Monday, February 16, 2015

Cirque du Zizek (The Weekend Australian, January 2015)

It fell to US journalist Adam Kirsch, writing in The New Republic in 2008, to encapsulate in a single phrase the disconcerting experience of reading a book by Slavoj Žižek. Kirsch called Žižek ‘the deadly jester’, a description that managed to bring together the Slovenian philosopher’s showmanship with his extreme political stance (he is as far to the left politically as he is to the right alphabetically), while also suggesting that these two sides are related: that this ‘dangerous’ philosopher is all the more dangerous for his reputation as ‘the Elvis of cultural theory’. According to this popular view, Žižek’s philosophy is a Trojan horse – a gaudy offering to which the threat of violence is, as he might say himself, ‘immanent’. [More here.]

Mining the work of a 'national resource' (The Weekend Australian, January 2015)

It is a principle of Raimond Gaita’s thought that one cannot separate moral truths from the manner of their articulation, and that the manner of their articulation will depend on who is doing the articulating. In other words, what we say about morality is deeply connected to the way we say it, which is connected, in turn, to who we are. For Gaita, moral truths are to be tested, not on the page, but in the world; values have to be ‘embodied’. It is for this reason that Romulus, My Father is so central to his work as a whole. That memoir of his childhood in Victoria, with all its attendant griefs and wonders, is significant not just for the morality of its ‘characters’ – the ‘summer-coloured humanism’ of Romulus and his best friend Hora – but for the author’s relationship to that morality, a relationship that is at once intellectual and emotional, and no less ‘real’ for being a combination of the two. Put simply, Gaita is a moral philosopher whose work depends on openness to others. [More here.]

Friday, December 19, 2014

How to have your coke and snort it too: a review of Russell Brand's Revolution (Sydney Morning Herald)

In 2013 the comedian Russell Brand, who is known for his rock-star garb and hyperactive stage performances, guest-edited an issue of the New Statesman and declared in his editorial that he had never voted in a general election. An interviewer on the BBC's Newsnight wanted to know why, and also, given the comedian’s apathy, why anyone should care what he had to say. As he put it, rather more pointedly, ‘Why, if you can’t be arsed to vote, should we be arsed to listen to your political point of view?’ [More here.]

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Invisible Censor (Online Opinion)

Confessing one’s ignorance is not, perhaps, the ideal way to begin an article, but the recent debate about whether or not Grand Theft Auto V is misogynistic is not one to which I’m able to contribute. The last video games I played regularly were Jet Set Willy and Manic Miner, and, frankly, I was terrible at them. (I do occasionally tune in to Good Game, but only in order to stare wistfully at Stephanie Bendixen, aka ‘Hex’.) Certainly GTA5 looks quite nasty. From the promotional clips I’ve seen on YouTube I would even go so far as to say that the principal characters are up to no good. But that’s as far as I’ll go on the matter. [More here.]

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Strictly speaking, grammar nuts have a point (The Australian)

It is easy to laugh at ‘Grammar Nazis’ – easy and, frequently, necessary. People who obsess about beginning sentences with conjunctions, or ending them with prepositions, are to be studiously avoided at parties, while those who object to the use of ‘which’ in restrictive clauses are only marginally less irritating. As for the empurpled nitwits who complain loudly about split infinitives (an invented rule, and the crowning stupidity of nineteenth-century prescriptivism) – those who haven’t died of natural causes should be, for their own sakes, humanely put down. [More here.]

Friday, November 28, 2014

We Can't Leave Our Genes Behind (November 2014, The Weekend Australian)

At some point in the 1990s, a poster began to appear on the London Underground. It depicted four brains, three of which were identical and one of which was much smaller than the others. From a distance, it appeared to be a crude taxonomy of the kind that one might associate with a nineteenth-century phrenologist. But closer inspection revealed a political message. Set out in a line, with the small one last, the brains were labelled, respectively, ‘African’, ‘European’, ‘Asian’, and ‘Racist’. [More here.]

'The Adolescent Country': A Peculiar Meld of the Obvious and the Obviously Untrue (New Matilda)

As someone who is always in the market for irony, I’ll admit to having felt slightly giddy when I first read that the Abbott government had utilised Australia’s seat on the UN Security Council to formulate a recovery mission to Ukraine in the wake of the MH17 disaster. After all, it was Tony Abbott who, six months in to his stint as opposition leader, described Kevin Rudd’s bid for a seat on the Council (costed at around $13 million) as a vanity project and a waste of money. (That was in mid 2010, at which point Abbott was getting into character as his alter ego ‘Dr No’.) That he would utilise the seat in such a statesmanlike manner was thus a rather neat reversal. A shame he had to spoil the effect by threatening to ‘shirtfront’ the Russian President. But hey, you can’t have everything. [More here.]

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

More shade, please, in 'the burqa debate' (New Matilda)

There used to be a convention at the seamier end of the pornography market whereby models would be de-identified by way of a dark strip across their eyes. The aim of this strip, presumably, was to protect the honour of the featured models – these being the days before the internet had made us all a little less chaste. Its effect, however, was strangely brutalising: denuded of her eyes – ‘the windows to the soul’, as Professor Marcus has it in The Ladykillers – the woman became, even more than before, a plaything of the male gaze: a piece of meat, in other words. [More here.]

The Bigot's Revenge (Online Opinion)

Of all the indispensable words to have slipped their definitional moorings in the latter decades of the twentieth century – ‘iconic’, ‘tragedy’, ‘legendary’ – ‘ironic’ is perhaps the most conspicuous. Certainly its fall from semantic grace has been one of the more spectacular: where once this adjective was pressed into service to describe appropriate reversals of fortune or knowing asides at one’s own expense, it now denotes little more than coincidence or simple incongruity. ‘How ironic is that?!’ an old friend will declare, having bumped into you for the second time in a week. Well, not ironic at all, actually, or no more ironic than ‘rain on your wedding day’, to take one of the instances of irony proffered by a certain Canadian songstress. [More here.]

Friday, September 19, 2014

Comrade Tressell's Problem Novel (Sydney Review of Books)

‘The trouble with you socialists is that you don’t know anything about economics.’ The businessman – a wealthy retailer – was talking to a miner in Western Australia. ‘What you don’t seem to understand’, he continued, ‘is that every time you get an increase in your wages, the cost of living rises with them.’ 

‘So what are you saying?’ enquired the miner; ‘That if we asked for a pay cut the cost of living would go down?’ 

Taken aback by the miner’s question, the businessman had to admit that, yes – that was indeed what he was saying. 

‘All right then,’ said the miner, ‘we’ll ask for a pay cut. And then we’ll ask for another pay cut. And I suppose that in a few years’ time you cunts will be paying us to take your stuff away!’ [More here.]

Review of Stephen Edgar's Exhibits of the Sun (The Weekend Australian, September)

To say that the pace of modern life is unconducive to lyric poetry is not so much to flirt with cliché as to drop your keys down cliché’s blouse and insist upon retrieving them. It’s also undeniable. Assailed from all sides by all manner of trivia, we’ve lost the habit of sustained contemplation needed to engage with this most challenging of art forms; so many and so various are the demands upon our attention that attention itself has atrophied. Nor is it only social media and click-bait junkies who are at issue here. In an interview in 2006, the unashamedly highbrow Martin Amis admitted to feeling increasingly rushed – such that poetry had been pushed to one side: ‘When you’re reading your New York Review of Books, some piece about North Korea or the Middle East, and there’s a poem in the middle of it, you think, What is that doing there?’ [More here.]

Interview on Sunday Night Safran

I had a nice chat with John Safran on his Sunday night show. Audio here, about 8 minutes in.