The Nobel Committee for Literature has announced new procedures for determining laureates in the field of literature.
Current Nobel committee members Per Wästberg, Anders Olsson, Kristina Lugn, and Horace Engdahl, and associate members Sara Danius and Katarina Frostenson, have spoken at length about their dissatisfaction with the selection process. “Det är en jävla cirkus,” Wästberg said. “På något sätt blev hela jävla galen och vi hamnade med en jävla musiker. Hur hände det? jag vet inte.”
Determined that past errors and controversies would not be repeated, Danius and Frostenson have suggested that there should be a new protocol for nominations: “Vi kommer att få människor att kämpa i sina underkläder och under de hårda förhållandena. Det kommer att bli kallt. Verkligen väldigt kallt. Och det kommer att bli lera – enorma mängder mycket våt, slarvig lera.”
Once nominations have been received through the new process, a new protocol for selection will be equally rigorous. “Vi ska göra det på den gamla vägen. Naturligtvis kan vi inte avslöja för mycket, men det kommer att involvera äppelkakor, våfflor och pannkakor. Och risgrynsgröt, förstås,” Kristina Lugn said.
The Nobel Committee receives over one hundred official nominations each year for the literature prize. The nominees are usually pretty good writers, yet somehow the Nobel Committee manages to come up with a decision.
“Några av dessa tekniker används för närvarande i mongolsk och australisk litteratur, och deras genomförande här kommer att leda Nobelprisen till nittonde århundradet,” Horace Engdahl added.
I left home in the late 1970s. My first nights of freedom I slept on the banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne, at a bend near where there is now a skate park. The first home of my own was a couple of rooms in North Fitzroy that were more like corrugated iron lean-tos than rooms. These rooms were air-conditioned but not waterproof; the windows were broken, glass louvres, and the entrance door had a large hole in it. By 1980 I had moved into digs, at the rear of 777 Park Street in Brunswick, that are still standing and still look like a granny flat. I was twenty-one when 1980 ended. Worries about finding and keeping a home were often on my mind.
And the world seemed to go haywire. In 1979 Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in the UK. ‘Mad Max’, an apocalyptic premonition, appeared on cinema screens. Later in 1979, Iranian students and ‘radicals’ invaded the US embassy in Tehran and took ninety hostages. In December 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. In early 1980 the world looked overheated and dangerous, and Ronald Reagan was chosen to be the Republican Party nominee for the November presidential election.
In these first few months of 1980 I took my anxieties about ‘home’, welded them to my anxieties about everything else, and tried to tell myself a joke to relieve the tension. That joke is the story ‘On the uncertainty of finding a place to call home’. I was never happy with it, partly because it seemed too slight, partly because the ‘voice’ adopted in it did not treat my secret feelings with appropriate seriousness.
A half-life later I am struck that this only slightly funny story—of a man trying to survive in a world that has already fallen apart—tries to be funny at all. It is not the kind of humor that is a string of jokes. Instead, it asks readers to notice, over and over again, that the central character’s principal flaws are timidity and an inability to face reality. This, I thought, was what was wrong with everyone, including myself. It is not really a joking matter.
When it was finished I sent it off, with a ridiculous and completely unwarranted degree of self-assurance, and a stamped self-addressed envelope, to Meanjin. I was lucky that the then editor of Meanjin, Jim Davidson, had been putting together an issue in which some professional thinkers would set down their thoughts about Australia’s war literature and opposition to Americanisation. Arthur Phillips picked my story out from the leaning tower of words that was stacked in J.D.’s fiction in-tray … and the rest is all regret and tears.
Rejecting this story from inclusion in my first book was the first step in rejecting everything about writing that I associated with the performative staginess that was a common mode of poetry in the early 1980s and is still alive and well. (More power to everyone who can cope with the special rigors of that mode of publication!)
That was then; this is now…
The election of an entitled, self-absorbed septuagenarian populist to the US presidency seems to mark a turning point if one looks at things from the narrow perspective of party politics. But several writers and historians have pointed out, setting aside startling differences of tone and ambience, the course of US and world politics, Australia included, is not much changed since at least the late 1990s—and it is possible the current direction was set even decades earlier. Richard Rorty wrote, in 1998:
Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.
At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. —Achieving Our Country
When Barack Obama let US bankers escape prosecution or personal consequences for the havoc they wrought in the world’s economy, he joined the club of presidents and ‘progressive’ leaders around the world who have kept their respective polities on a starvation diet, caring too much about points gained on the stock market and too little about the health of democracy, society, and working people. Since the late 1990s the average worker’s ‘take home’ from the growth of developed economies has been zero or less than zero; while high-earning managers and CEOs who twenty years ago earned forty times an average wage are now earning 350 times the average wage. The economic ideology that created this result operates at the level of threat: it tells working people over and over again that government must take care of business or jobs will go: submit or starve.
The forty-fourth issue of Otoliths is available, free, online. Several of the poems concern the emerging situation in the USA after the election of President von Clownstick. As usual, the issue contains interesting visual material and experiments. My own contribution, ‘Auguration,’ was a reaction to the imminent inauguration of the new POTUS. I was reading a part of Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy at the time. A note in this work uses a quote from a novel by George Sand: “Le combat ou la mort; la lutte sanguinaire ou le neant. C’est ainsi que la quéstion est invinciblement posée.” Fight or die. A bloody struggle or nothingness. This is how these questions are inevitably posed.
I woke this morning from a dream in which the future
had been laid out before me like mathematics. All the assertions
of economists and other soothsayers about the sickening movements
of markets could be denied; and everything will be denied
everything—except that two plus two equals four.
The animal used in this auguration was the self-acting mule, a machine
that has arms and pincers, and can be made to perform
routine tasks tirelessly, without complaint except that it might
give a kick now and then. This animal, this algorithm without feeling
has been shitting in our society for years—and now we have found a use for it.
The dream did not turn out at all how I expected it to turn out.
That is how you know dreams have turned into nightmares.
We are all going to find ourselves crouching in a dark space
not together—that is, not acting in unison, as a group—but separately
and individually responsible in the fight that is coming.
The rulers, however—the presidents, governors and the rest—
who have always united for the purpose of our repression and
do not like to share any ground with other people
will be onboard their yachts and planes at the crucial moment
when promises are made and broken in the same breath, and things fall apart.
It is just then that the failure of truth will be its own punishment
and facts will stand out in stark relief, like someone screaming
on a cold night. It will be fight or die. A survivor will be left standing
covered in blood and it will not seem proper to talk about right or wrong
because some questions have always been answered this way.
Director of sports, Hong Song Hyon, has been executed after he misspoke during a televised interview about the North Korean national sports day.
Talking to international media gathered in Kim Il-sung Square, Mr Hong said “Today there will be public sports events in various places in the capital. The healthy men and women of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will demonstrate their love for the Supreme Leader and their preparedness to diet for him.”
Realising his error, Mr Hong immediately tried himself and pronounced the verdict of guilty. The penalty in North Korea for errors of this kind is death. The sentence was carried out immediately, by Mr Hong himself.
The Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, who was at a cheese-tasting at the Supreme People’s Assembly when the incident occurred, commented that Mr Hong had been an effective and loyal sycophant and that it was unfortunate his legacy had been tarnished by this imperfection. “Mmmm. I rike this one,” the Supreme Leader said.
There have been reports of a ‘mountain lion’. The danger
that came down from a reserve and waited crouching
in grey grass at the side of the road had eyes
emitting rays to hypnotise hunters and children.
The announcements paralysed us. We did not think
that in our despair we gave everything we owned
to the rich and scientists who perfected lying
for theorems whose only purpose was deceit. The voters
got up to no good at night in parks set aside
for the betterment of us all, dressed up as crazy beasts
as celebrities, symbolists and as fortune-tellers
and let the animals loose. In Celebration Park there are no super-heroes, and not even any heroes in this dire plot: we are the wildlife, it is our nature stripped and bare-ass naked. There is a map for everywhere except the private places of a few who can afford silence.
When my dad came to Australia he went to work
in a spray painting factory. He was there for eleven years.
He worked hard. After a while the foreman
who was ready to retire
said dad should become the foreman.
It meant more money. He wouldn’t have to work overtime.
He would no longer have to spray.
My dad turned it down. He could speak English
and understand it and read it.
He could not write. This terrified him.
He was stuck.
1992 | Time stands still
I worked for a union. You worked on a process line.
There was a time in the lighting factory
when there was an engineer on your left and a doctor to your right.
It was the 1990s. It could have been now.
Immigrants turning screws on pieces of metal ten hours a day.
The president of my union talked about how a video cassette recorder
could make movies play a frame at a time or make time stand still.
It was the 1990s. It could have been now.
I was there when the ‘workplace’ became a science
when the continual improvement of work
could be the continuous improvement of ourselves.
When I was a waiter, when I was a clerk, when I was a cleaner,
when I washed dishes and when I sold shirts,
I was too tired to think.
1995 | The floor above
The process line workers were separate.
The sales people, on the floor above
didn’t move, didn’t eat, didn’t smoke
between the ringing of bells.
They had a different clock.
Sometimes a person on the process line would be given a promotion
and leave the factory floor to work upstairs.
He would be trained in sales, arranging deliveries
and acquiring new business. He got a new haircut.
He could see the sky. He wore shiny shoes.
These promotions were only for certain types: males without accents.
The owner was the main man at a football club.
He had a promising junior player working on the floor above.
I say ‘working’, but he did fuck all and spent his days sitting
in a toilet and reading the paper, like a champion.
2007 | Intervention
Little children are sacred. Everyone agrees.
In order to protect me, a national emergency
cordons off one million three hundred and forty-seven thousand
five hundred and twenty-five square kilometres and
brings justice by taking my father’s land
a second time. I was inspected in the morning
and forced to speak English. I practiced this
new language counting times the law mentions land
and times it mentions me: six hundred to none.
Irony bridges what was said and what is done.
2016 | Swallowed
I am thirteen. My people were the first here, but I have no union.
I spat in the face of the whale that threatened to swallow me.
The old men who put their knees in my back want to kill
my pride. When I am abandoned by my country
I am the Pip spat out in the desert, castaway and lost.
Could you use your vote now to put a hook in Leviathan’s nose?
Does it speak to us in gentle words or tell us to work and shut up?
Will it make us beg for mercy? Will we have to fight again?
Nothing in our dreams is its equal. It swallowed me up
and I wait there for the one who made the whale to free me.
Note from the writers
These lines began as a conversation about work. In July 2016 news and images emerged from Australia’s Northern Territory of the mistreatment of children in the ‘justice’ system. Leviathan has for a long time been the symbol of the commonwealth and a lawmaker. In the Tanakh (Job 41) this monster is a pride-killer. (26 August 2016)