13 Mar 2010, Comments (11)

The Pardoner’s Tale

Author: Helen

This is about a parochial stoush in the ongoing Australian / Expat Australian skirmishes which might make your eyes glaze over. Mandy Sayer, author of Dreamtime Alice and partner to Louis Nowra, has published a piece in the Australian defending Nowra’s article in the Monthly which, according to this article and other people who have read it, is pretty poor stuff. Not having read it myself*, the following will unavoidably be a bit meta: it’s about Sayer’s response and the facts which I’ve gleaned from other trustworthy readers with Monthly subscriptions.

In an essay to mark The Female Eunuch’s 40th anniversary, Nowra lambasts the book as “hopelessly middle class” and Greer’s depiction of women as misogynistic. The playwright and novelist writes: “She wanted women to undergo a profound change in the way they viewed themselves and their relationships with men. If you look at how Greer thought this could happen and what actually did, then our contemporary world must come as a disappointment to her.”
In the essay, published in The Monthly, a current affairs magazine, Nowra not only attacks Greer’s work, but criticises her appearance, her character and even her sanity. “She will do anything to get noticed,” he says, adding that when Greer appeared on the reality TV show Celebrity Big Brother, she looked like “a befuddled and exhausted old woman” who reminded him of “my demented grandmother”.

Sayer’s piece is another example of an bad editorial decision, I think – publishing a piece dashed off in anger by the partner of a public intellectual in the heat of the moment, while the argument’s still unfolding. Would “too close to the action” be a reasonable description? But it sells newspapers, I guess.

It’s wearying how every time feminists write something disagreeing with anyone, the verb used will be “attacked”. You’re writers, people, find another one. Another example of people not practicing what they preach about playing the argument and not the arguer (“play the man and not the ball”). I haven’t noticed Sayer take to the stage to denounce people like Devine, Bolt and Albrechtsen, although “attack” would be a more accurate description of their writing. And “attack” wouldn’t be so out of place describing a piece where one public intellectual attacks another public intellectual (and by extension their dead grandmother) by condemning her based on her perceived unf**kability as a woman and comparing her to his “demented” grandmother.

The whole of Sayer’s argument rests on the idea that because Nowra is such a great guy in her world, and does something to help poor and oppressed people, then there can’t possibly be anything wrong with the Monthly article. I blame the remnants of what a misty-eyed John Howard used to refer to as “our Judeo-Christian culture”. Nowra contributes to charity for marginalised peoples’ education, washes dishes and buys groceries, and respects Sayer’s personal space (all excellent things, I agree), therefore, he is allowed a hateful piece of character asassination in a national magazine, because he’s racked up so many credits in the niceness bank. In other words, he’s purchased an indulgence.

I’d hope that in the twenty-first century we would no longer believe in the Medieval practice of buying indulgences to offset things that we do. If I give a certain amount of money to social justice causes and do a wonderful job of the housework and my paid work and treat everyone around me with respect, it doesn’t allow me to go out and glass someone at the pub, for instance. It’s not a balance sheet. The rest of the world is perfectly within its rights to approve heartily of Nowra’s charitable contributions and domestic virtue, while soundly criticising his hateful article. That is what addressing the argument and not the person means.
*I haven’t read it because I agree that the publication of this article is a massive troll by the Monthly to boost its circulation, but I did go to the local library this morning in an attempt to get my hands on the library copy. Unfortunately the “librarian” on duty at the desk, and I use those scare quotes advisedly, wasn’t aware of the periodical’s existence and was unwilling to ask any staff member to help me locate it, although Computer Said Yes, it was in and available.

Comments (11)

  • Kath Lockett says:

    Crikey had a good piece on it yesterday saying something like ‘He does the dishes, so Germaine’s old and ugly. Not good enough.’

  • Anthony says:

    Excellent post. But perhaps you should have used scare quotes around “public intellectual”. I’m not sure how Nowra or Naparstek were able to conjure this phrase out of the blue to brand a playwright and thus sell magazines (And, I might add, a magazine with about a week’s worth of reading. “The Weekly” would be a better moniker for these blokes’ publication)

  • genevieve says:

    TSK. Do not pardon that customer service officer who did not know where the periodicals live, or that they have soft covers. TSK TSK.

  • genevieve says:

    and my, teh balcony is looking very tasteful.

  • Helen says:

    Oh, I have to add (in case I look like a right berk) that I do know where the periodicals live, but in Footscray they’re kind of in disarray. Which is partly a good thing as it indicates they’re well loved and used. I did do a good scour of the section, but the Monthly was nowhere to be seen.

    They do, however, have a semi-permanent sales table where they flog off the old books, 20c any paperback and 50c any hardback. Today I scored Martin Krygier Civil Passions and Catharine Lumby Bad Girls. It’s excellent for books I’m unlikely to fork over $30 for but could benefit from reading.
    Also got Jilly Cooper’s Riders, the most wonderful escapist crap you could ever imagine for a former young pony book addict. It’ll be 50c well spent.

  • Helen says:

    …And thanks for the comment, Genevieve – Tigtog is reponsible for the nice design!

    perhaps you should have used scare quotes around “public intellectual”.

    I’m kind of following on from the first paragraph of Kim’s LP post Anthony –
    I don’t know what qualifications you need to be a public intellectual. I think you get such a gig because readers of The Age have voted for you, or something. But apparently playwright Louis Nowra is one.
    In Oz, I think playwrights quality as public intellectuals, but there ought to be some kind of spotters’ handbook.

  • Bwca Brownie says:

    woohoo – Cooper’s Riders is indeed worth 50c (as it is just Shirley Conran saddled-up) I love those dump tables in libraries.
    I saw and ignored The Monthly cover positioned (by my witty local newsagent) right above The WEEK cover also of St.Germaine, BUT a la Delacroix, waving the Female Eunuch cover torso as a banner.
    The editor is 23 or something close.

    I have no interest in the opinions on it, of anybody who did not read it the year it was first published in paperback. context is everything. Bless her.

    It does MANDY NOWRA no credit to have married a man who describes his grandmother as sad haggard and demented.

    stuff ’em, they’re so Sydney.

  • tigtog says:

    I must confess to a modicum of schadenfreude that any librarian, even an airquotes-librarian, had never heard of The Monthly – it hardly reflects their sulf-proclaimed stellar reputation in the world of periodicals now, does it?

  • Helen says:

    Oh, and I need a slapping, I really do. I’m just JELUS because I tried to retrain as a librarian after I’d had Girlchild, and it was the worst vicious circle ever – couldn’t enrol in any library course I could find in Melbourne w/out already being employed in a library, and no library would take me on at a base grade level cos I was “over qualified”, you see. And I would have been good at it, I think. Boo to you Library industry.

  • Helen says:

    …and it occurs to me that possibly she was a LP or HAT reader who was being deliciously subversive by hiding the Monthly then airily replying “What’s that, never heard of it!” to any enquiries.

    Possibly. Well, it’s fun to imagine.

  • genevieve says:

    Oh I am sorry to be so slow returning to this delicious bad library story.

    I would be damn annoyed too if I were you and could not be entered into library training – it has loosened up plenty now, with the information explosion and all, especially if you already have an undergrad degree (sounds like you do, from the overqualifications suggestion). Employment is still a bit tight at times.

    But heh, WOTS THE MONTHLY? yes, tigtog, that is very silly indeed, given its title ( I do wish I had a better word – it’s the afternoon, I’m winding down to fish and chips for tea.) Ur a fine designer ma’am.

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