…and so should you!
“For years, everyone had believed that John Howard had promised to leave the prime ministership when asked to do so by his party. In September, the most authoritative voice of the party – a majority of the Liberals in his Cabinet – had asked him to retire. Howard stubbornly refused. Not only had he broken a promise made on a hundred occasions. It was suddenly clear that the promise had been formulated in so cunning a manner that its second half effectively negated its first. This was what one of those who spoke to the recent biographers of the prime minister meant by Howard’s ‘lawyer’s tongue’.”
In the Monthly Comment, Robert Manne presents a balance sheet for the Howard years and provides his final pre-election word on why Australia needs a change of government – on why an ex-mandarin must become the nation’s top banana.
“My mother was very fond of an old German joke: ‘Go with God, but go!’ That is how I feel about John Howard. I hope that by the time the next issue of this magazine is published, a new era in Australian history, under the prime ministership of Kevin Rudd, will have begun. Only when that era opens will the meaning of the Howard years … gradually become clear.”
“I didn’t think you could call someone a bogan. Even a bogan, I thought, doesn’t want to be called a bogan. It is a term so derogatory it is double-edged, condemning its user as a snob with something to prove at the same time as slagging off its target. Then again, in a society squeamish about identifying class differences – up or down – maybe everyone has their own private bogan, someone slightly to the west of them.”
And in “All Bogans Here”, Anna Funder visits a session at the National Young Writers’ Festival in Newcastle that opens her eyes to the bogan-pride movement. Audacious, loud and without pretension, the panellists help Funder to discover that boganism is a new way of understanding art and life. Boganism, with its irreverent humour and defiant honesty, might just be an antidote to bland populist culture.
“Perhaps to be a bogan is to expect so little and have so little expected of you that you define yourself by your lack of pretension. This is not a bad place to make art from: social pretensions are not useful if you are trying to see things for what they are.”
“The historian does not merely record; he edits, he omits, he judges, he interprets, he reorganises, he composes. His mission is nothing less than ‘to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth manifold and one, underlying its every aspect’. Yet this quote is not from a historian discussing history writing; it is from a novelist on the art of fiction: it is the famous beginning of Joseph Conrad’s preface to The Nigger of the Narcissus, a true manifesto of the novelist’s mission.”
And in “Lies That Tell the Truth”, Simon Leys explores with customary wit the intellectual link between veracity and fiction. Myth, parable and creative writing: all are tools employed by thinkers to uncover a higher truth. Through a sparkling series of examples, Leys investigates how creative thinking and writing can lead to the most important of scientific, historical and moral conclusions.
“The fact is, these two arts – history writing and fiction writing – originating both in poetry, involve similar activities and mobilise the same faculties: memory and imagination; and this is why it could rightly be said that the novelist is the historian of the present and the historian the novelist of the past. Both must invent the truth.”
For just $40 for twelve months. No, this is not an ad. I genuinely believe The Monthly is making an extraordinary contribution to the quality of thinking here in Australia. Something to balance the mainstream media and more balanced than the increasingly risible Quadrant (poetry aside) was definitely needed.