Saturday, April 23, 2011

On not writing about the Miles Franklin Literary Award

Passing over the irony of the fact that the main reason I've been neglecting this blog is that I've been flat out writing a book, missing my first deadline but absolutely determined not to miss my second (and I didn't, either. It seems that it's still possible in your late fifties to work all night; who knew?) -- passing over, as I say, the irony of that, I've been thinking in the wake of the second Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlist in three years to feature novels written exclusively by men about why the very thought of writing another post about this (for if they're gonna keep doin' it then it is up to those of us to whom these things matter to keep callin' 'em on it) (God I love long sentences, I just love them to death) makes me want to lie down in my own bed in the foetal position with the doona over my head and my thumb in my mouth.

The closest I've seen to an answer to this question is provided by theatre critic, poet and novelist Alison Croggon in some online discussion in the wake of her excellent piece on the subject for the ABC's The Drum. Can't find that comment now but it was something to the effect that one way to get rid of pesky feminist critics was to force them to bore themselves to death explaining the same simple points over and over again.

Examples of the simple points in question: What patriarchy is. What 'hegemony' means. Why the idea of 'literary merit' is not an absolute given. How the dominant culture works. Why it's not simply a matter of who has which set of bits. In a word, Feminism 101.

Not only do I not want to bore myself to death going over these things in online arguments with men who think they already know everything, I also don't want to bore myself to death listening to or reading the magisterial pronouncements of people who haven't done the reading. For examples, see the comments thread on Alison Croggon's piece I linked to up there, if you can stomach it, which I bet you can't. And the comments on Jason Steger's piece on the subject in The Age yesterday are much worse again.

The reason one has to explain the same simple points over and over again is that, in general, blokes simply do not listen when women speak, and they do not read what women write. This is circular argument: they will say Oh but that's because what women say isn't good or interesting, and then you say Well that's because you're applying masculine values universally, and they say They're not masculine values, they're universal values, like for example everyone agrees on what literary merit is, and you say Well no we don't, women value some things differently, and they say Oh but what women say isn't good or interesting.


I speak from the experience of (a) six years of blogging, in which activity I include reading and commenting on other blogs, (b) 20 years of university teaching and (c) 50+ years of arguing with my father. The exception is (some) male academics in the humanities, especially those under about 50: those who have actually read some of the theory, and into whom some of the theory has sunk. You can practically see the shining light bulbs above these men's heads. I am very fond of all of them.

But as for the rest, I don't know how this is to be got over. Perhaps it isn't. See doona, foetal position, thumb, etc.

Also, in the discussion of this year's Miles F round the online traps, I've been seeing two (in particular) other honourable exceptions to this: The Australian's literary editor Stephen Romei, and novelist and critic James Bradley. So perhaps there is hope.