Monday, January 26, 2009
Happy Aboriginal Holocaust Day
Some time ago I got myself into an online spat with Scamp's antipodean readers. I know I have at least one Australian reader, who has an excellent sense of humour, and today is Australia Day, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to rake over a few of my prejudices.
Australia Day celebrates the moment in history when the British began unloading convicts onto the continent, unleashing alcoholism and venereal disease onto the indigenous population - these being earliest forms of Australian culture. Today it's celebrated in much the same way as it was then, with Australians gathering together to burn meat, vomit and copulate in the street.
Many Australians will tell you that they are proud to be Australian, however, despite this they are pathologically incapable of staying in that country. In fact, it's no exaggeration to say that all the good Australians (Peter Carey, Nick Cave and Dave Droga) have left Australia, never to return.
Carey is one of two people to have won the Booker twice, and one of four ex-copywriters to have been nominated - let's just say, they know how to take a brief. Like the best Russian authors, he's possessed of a total world-creating imaginative power. This characteristic, engendered in the Russian psyche by the barren expanses of the steppe, is borne out of longing. The sense that somewhere, something great is happening, just not here. The Russians actually formulated this idea into a depressing saying: "Happiness is somewhere else."
Victims of a similar belief, Australian artists suffer a kind of psychic trauma - the world elsewhere exists only in their imagination, it becomes a depository for all their unfulfilled desires, their Lacanian phallus. Upon grasping their phallus*, the actual world outside, it cannot but fall short, it is a crushing disappointment. They are then doomed to look back on Australia with a mixture of melancholy and disgust, because it represents, paradoxically, a place of unbearable longing and dullard naiveté, but also innocence, before the disappointment of the actual. Carey writes predominantly about Australia at other times - this historical distance allows him to accommodate the contradictory urges to return and to reject. By rights he should have won a third Booker for Theft.
GC bears a passing resemblance to chinless rocker, Cave. I have seen him in the streets of W10 - he has surprisingly small feet - I assume he was wearing his song-writing shoes. Cave's response to his upbringing is a compensatory operatic grandeur, his best songs sound like they're designed to be sung at the top of your lungs from the top of a rock, in a dust-storm. At his worst this gets embarrassing - but more recently he's developed this wry, knowing attitude towards his own image. My girlfriend has a DVD about Shane McGowan, in which The Cave says "I was always trying to show people what a great writer I was, where as Shane could just write." This would do for me as a definition of heroism, to know that you are not a genius, to recognise its unfairness, but just to keep trying and trying.
Droga represents the opposite reaction to the Aussie cultural vacuum, a kind of ruthless,
anti-pretentious, reductionism but - and this is where I outraged the nationalistic pride of Australians last time - I don't actually believe this is a bad thing. I do believe, again, that it's a product of environment: "It's just us here, no need for all that fancy talk, why shouldn't we be straightforward mate? Can't you just call a spade a spade?"
Things are reduced to their fundamental qualities. You can sort of see how Australians would find, not just the Queen, but the idea of the the Queen absurd, in the context of a red flat landscape and an enormous burning sun. The landscape is anti-pomp. And after all, she is just a dusty old Sheila. So in Droga's advertising an abusive parent is a monster, a phone company that hides charges is evil, buying mineral water, when people are dying of thirst is stupid.
This incredible simplicity is why Dave Trott loves him - although he would characterise this tendency as working class, because he so totally prejudiced against the upper-middle classes, he can't even work out what's wrong with the Australians.
As you can tell we're not busy here, must be the recession finally coming to cleanse the land.
* I've been looking at Lacan for my next piece in Horse and Gondola Magazine. I'm enjoying his use of the word phallus - in fact, I'm trying to slip it out in meetings as much as possible.
Posted by william at 10:10 am