December 2006 - January 2007

Arts & Letters

‘Nobel Lecture: From the Literature Laureates, 1986 to 2005’

By Chris Middendorp

The uncredited introduction to this anthology somewhat meekly proposes that we shouldn't take high honours in literature too seriously. Reminding us of the sublime authors who were not awarded the Nobel - Tolstoy, James, Conrad, Woolf, Nabokov, Greene, among others - the anonymous writer blithely concedes that, since its establishment in 1901, "the Literature Prize has been subject to its fair share of contradictions."

All contradictions aside, this heady volume of 20 recent laureates' lectures holds a succession of worthy lessons about the pathways through which language can either condemn or redeem. With perfervid lyricism, Toni Morrison (1993) examines how language is manipulated by powerful groups to dominate and cajole. "Oppressive language does more than represent violence," she proclaims, "it is violence." Chinese writer Gao Xingjian (2000) speaks compellingly of how words can free us: "literature allows a person to preserve a human consciousness."

Does language serve ideology or does ideology serve language? Too often, says Harold Pinter (2005), "language is actually employed to keep thought at bay." He goes on to excoriate all US foreign policy since World War II. Is this Pinter or Pilger? More serenely, Wole Soyinka (1986) talks of "the black race's capacity to forgive" white subjugation. His gentle ruminations on the process of Africa's recovery from colonialism are deeply affecting.

The most whimsical lecture of the set is by the Italian satirist Dario Fo (1997). Relating how injustice is the by-product of ignorance, he includes a series of drawings intended to supplement his argument when words are inadequate. Fo's crude doodlings provide a telling reflection on the limits of writing, no matter how accomplished. Assembled as narratives, words may serve to inspire or subdue people, but they are always symbols of something deeper. Writing can register human behaviour, yet the soul remains ineffable.

Cover: December 2006 - January 2007

December 2006 - January 2007

From the front page

2009 forever

Blame the Coalition, not the Greens, for Australia’s decade of climate dysfunction

Cover of ‘The Testaments’

‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

The Booker Prize–winning sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is an exhilarating thriller from the “wiliest writer alive”

Image from ‘The Report’

Interrogating the interrogators: ‘The Report’

This tale of the investigation into CIA torture during the War on Terror places too much faith in government procedure

Image of police station in Alice Springs with red handprints on wall

What really happened at Yuendumu?

The promised inquiries must answer the biggest questions raised by the police shooting of an Aboriginal man


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Donald Bradman & Boris Karloff

The usual suspects

‘Quadrant’ at 50
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Jumblats Pty Ltd

Some things we don’t yet know

Robert Hughes’s ‘Things I Didn’t Know’

More in Arts & Letters

Image of Jia Tolentino

Radical ambiguity: Jia Tolentino, Rachel Cusk and Leslie Jamison

The essay collections ‘Trick Mirror’, ‘Coventry’ and ‘Make It Scream, Make It Burn’ offer doubt and paradoxical thinking in the face of algorithmic perfectionism

Image of Archie Roach

A way home: Archie Roach

The writer of ‘Took the Children Away’ delivers a memoir of his Stolen Generations childhood and an album of formative songs

Image from ‘The Irishman’

Late style: Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’

Reuniting with De Niro, Pacino and Pesci, the acclaimed director has delivered less of a Mob film than a morality play

Still from Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

No one’s laughing now: Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

A gripping psychological study of psychosis offers a surprising change of pace in the superhero genre


More in Noted

Image of ‘Wild River, Florida’

‘Civilization: The Way We Live Now’

The beautiful photographs of often grim subjects in NGV Australia’s exhibition raise questions over the medium’s power to critique

Cover of ‘The Testaments’

‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

The Booker Prize–winning sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is an exhilarating thriller from the “wiliest writer alive”

Cover of ‘The Man Who Saw Everything’

‘The Man Who Saw Everything’ by Deborah Levy

The British author experiments with a narrative structure that collapses past and present

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age


Read on

Image from ‘The Report’

Interrogating the interrogators: ‘The Report’

This tale of the investigation into CIA torture during the War on Terror places too much faith in government procedure

Image of police station in Alice Springs with red handprints on wall

What really happened at Yuendumu?

The promised inquiries must answer the biggest questions raised by the police shooting of an Aboriginal man

You could drive a person crazy: Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are at their career best in this bittersweet tale of divorce

Blockade tactics

Inside the 2019 IMARC protests


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