Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More Les

My apologies if this post is a little self-indulgent. The thing is, I really enjoy the political poetry of Les Murray. Here's another one, the major part of "A Stage in Gentrification" from Subhuman Redneck Poems (1996).

Most Culture has been an East German plastic bag
pulled over our heads, stifling and wet,
we see a hotly distorted world
through crackling folds and try not to gag.

Sex, media careers, the Australian republic
and recruited depression are in that bag
with scorn of God, with self-abasement studies
and funding's addictive smelling-rag.

Eighty million were murdered by police
in the selfsame terms and spirit which nag
and bully and set the atmosphere
inside the East German plastic bag.

It wants to become our country's flag ...

Maybe you had to experience the leftist ascendancy of the mid-90s in Australia to "get" this poem. It brought me immediately back to the atmosphere of the campus arts faculties of the time; the term "self-abasement studies" is especially acute.


  1. I'm glad you've done two posts on him, Mark.

    That he is lauded and contemporary led me to some incorrect assumptions whenever I heard his name mentioned over the years.

    I've trawled through some of the poetry at his website - just brilliant. I'm going to pick up one or two of his collections next time I visit the bookshop.

  2. Nicholas, it's only self-indulgent in the sense that I'm not so confident readers will share an interest in poetry, or relate as closely to the kinds of things Murray is getting at.

    Shane, I'm glad you're giving Murray a go; at the very least, he's a prominent literary modern who doesn't write in bad faith. Worth further exploration, I think.

  3. I don't understand what you mean by "doesn't write in bad faith". Could you explain?

  4. It means he doesn't take up the subject matter for the sake of sly critique; he has no ulterior motive or agenda.

  5. Shane's explanation of bad faith is well-expressed: "sly critique" is a good way to put it.

    If you like, though, you can think about it very simply as follows: writing in bad faith simply means assuming the worst about your own society and tradition. It means taking what was done in good faith and reading the worst into it.

    As an example, think of feminists who write "in bad faith" about family life. They assume that the enterprise is an effort to uphold an oppressive patriarchal control. What happens in family life is thought of in "dirty" terms as a power struggle between men and women.

    That men might trudge off to work diligently as an act of love for their families, or out of a positive sense of masculine responsibility, doesn't register.

    It's now a commonplace for Western intellectuals to write of their own tradition in negative, disloyal terms as being oppressive, discriminatory etc. It's exceptional to read works like Murray's in which a natural love and affinity survives.