Attila the Pun
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Right from the get-go, you know this article in the Age is going to be a beauty:
A new award for an intellectual giant does not negate our cultural failings, writes Ashley Crawford.
Really? Giving one award to somebody won't automatically cure all our "cultural failings"? I am shocked. A theme of overbearing snobbery pervades the whole thing:
Smith has watched the dirge-like development of Australia's cultural life with an eagle eye. "Ambivalent" is the word he uses in his response to the Emeritus Award, for the simple reason that he has watched all too many sports figures heaped with praise while Australia's intellectuals have either fled the country or simply given up through lack of recognition.
One hopes he is less "ambivalent" about the $10000 cheque that accompanies the award.
"The reasons why are quite complex," he says. "I was married, I had a job. I knew there were opportunities for me overseas. I didn't stay for nationalistic reasons; I'm not a nationalist in that way, and I'm not a great admirer of the way this nation has treated its intellectuals. But at the same time I knew this country had a cultural future."
Wow, so we aren't facing a giant cultural black hole? Anyone who has seen an Australian film in the last five years may disagree with that.
In many ways, however, Smith is still awaiting the fruition of this vision. "We will become a more mature society," he says. "But we're still a young society, we don't have the cultural history of Europe or England or even the United States."
He is going for double points there - making the stunning observation that a 200 year old country doesnt have the cultural history of a 2000 year old country, plus the fact that we don't have the cultural history of "even the United States."
With his eclectic and roving eye, Smith is one of the giants of Australia's intellectual life. He remains staunchly committed to the notion of an intellectual Australia.
Thats big of him, but it makes you wonder whether he will ever be satisfied that there is such a thing.
"We're still not taken seriously," he says of Australia's standing overseas.
Oh, and your proof for this?
"I know to my cost because I have finished a book, which must be published in the Northern Hemisphere, and I have yet to find a publisher."
And that must be because of Australia's reputation as an intellectual backwater right - nothing whatsoever to do with the book? Lets have a look at the book:
Smith's latest opus is an important work on what he calls the formalesque. "The logic of it is this," he says: "We can't go on calling 'modernism' modernism forever. Modernism belongs to the last century, where abstraction was the dominant language.
I report, you decide.
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