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.

From the front page

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

OnlyFans and the adults in the room

The emerging OnlyFans community offering training and support to adult-content creators

Image of US President Joe Biden meeting virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, November 15, 2021. Image © Susan Walsh / AP Photo

The avoidable war

Kevin Rudd on China, the US and the forces of history

cartoon:In light of recent events

In light of recent events

Who’s preferencing whom?

Detail of cover of Simon Tedeschi’s ‘Fugitive’

Ghost notes: Simon Tedeschi’s ‘Fugitive’

A virtuoso memoir of music and trauma, and his experiences as a child prodigy, from the acclaimed Australian pianist

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 Steve Toltz

The quip and the dead: Steve Toltz’s ‘Here Goes Nothing’

A bleakly satirical look at death and the afterlife from the wisecracking author of ‘A Fraction of the Whole’

Detail of cover of Simon Tedeschi’s ‘Fugitive’

Ghost notes: Simon Tedeschi’s ‘Fugitive’

A virtuoso memoir of music and trauma, and his experiences as a child prodigy, from the acclaimed Australian pianist

Still from ‘Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood’

One small step: ‘Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood’ and ‘Deep Water’

Richard Linklater’s rotoscoped film evokes the optimism of late-1960s America, while Patricia Highsmith’s thriller gets another disappointing adaptation

Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori, ‘Dibirdibi country’ (2008

Art heist: The landmark conviction of an Aboriginal art centre’s manager

The jailing of Mornington Island Art’s chief executive for dishonest dealing has shone a light on ethics and colonialism in the Indigenous art world


More in Noted

Cover of Robert Lukins’ ‘Loveland’

‘Loveland’

Robert Lukins’ second novel takes a Brisbane woman to Nebraska, where an inheritance sparks a change in character as well as in fortune

Still from ‘We Own This City’

‘We Own This City’

David Simon, creator of ‘The Wire’, returns to Baltimore for a present-day examination of rapacious police corruption

Still from ‘Slow Horses’

‘Slow Horses’

A sardonic Gary Oldman heads a misfit branch of MI5 in Apple TV+’s thrilling exploration of personal motivation and political expedience

Image from ‘The Golden Cockerel’

‘The Golden Cockerel’

Barrie Kosky’s Adelaide production of Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera satirising the Russo-Japanese War came with uneasy resonances


Online exclusives

Image of US President Joe Biden meeting virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, November 15, 2021. Image © Susan Walsh / AP Photo

The avoidable war

Kevin Rudd on China, the US and the forces of history

Composite image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese speaking during the first leaders’ debate on April 20, 2022. Image © Jason Edwards / AAP Images

Election special: Who should you vote for?

Undecided about who to vote for in the upcoming federal election? Take our quiz to find out your least-worst option!

Image of the Stone of Remembrance at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Remembrance or forgetting?

The Australian War Memorial and the Great Australian Silence

Image of Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, Labor MP Emma McBride and shadow housing minister Jason Clare after meeting with young renter Lydia Pulley during a visit to her home in Gosford on May 3, 2022. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Property damage

What will it take for Australia to fix the affordable housing crisis?