The heart of James McAuley

I’m just back from the launch at the IPA – or rather re-launch for it was first published in 1980 – of The Heart of James McAuley by Peter Coleman. It was a star studded cast of launchers. Tony’s Staley and Abbott did the launching but Peter Coleman was also there to respond.

Each of the speakers spent a good deal of their time bashing the left. A certain amount of left bashing was appropritate in the circumstances given McAuley’s passions and the speakers’ views on these things. But for the celebration of someone for his poetic, literary and intellectual prowess it was close to a travesty it seems to me.

Reacting against the easy left wing nostrums of his time and as several speakers commented being essentially right about some of the central issues like communism, obviously rates more than a mention. It was a central part of McAuley. But if McAuley was as great as they suggested he was, that was just the backdrop – the starting point. Unfortunately it occupied most of the time and energy of the speakers.

Still all the speakers had something worthwhile to offer. Tony Abbott offered some interesting reflections on religion and politics – which will no doubt appear on his website. After rehearsing his objections to all the calumnies heaped upon the dead McCauley, which are reproduced in the preface to the book, Peter Coleman concluded by describing a scene of great pathos with McCauley and the victim of his great Ern Malley hoax, Max Harris reconciled at least a little reflecting on what they shared rather than what had torn them apart.

And Tony Staley recited McAuley poems he had learned by heart and which he said were crucial guides to him in his life to great effect, Not least this one Because. It continues over the fold, but the fold commences where I recall (rightly or wrongly) Staley’s exerpt concluding.

My father and my mother never quarrelled.
They were united in a kind of love
As daily as the Sydney Morning Herald,
Rather than like the eagle or the dove.

I never saw them casually touch,
Or show a moment’s joy in one another.
Why should this matter to me now so much?
I think it bore more hardly on my mother,

Who had more generous feelings to express.
My father had dammed up his Irish blood
Against all drinking praying fecklessness,
And stiffened into stone and creaking wood.

His lips would make a switching sound, as though
Spontaneous impulse must be kept at bay.
That it was mainly weakness I see now,
But then my feelings curled back in dismay.

Small things can pit the memory like a cyst:
Having seen other fathers greet their sons,
I put my childish face up to be kissed
After an absence. The rebuff still stuns

My blood. The poor man’s curt embarrassment
At such a delicate proffer of affection
Cut like a saw. But home the lesson went:
My tenderness thenceforth escaped detection.

My mother sang ‘Because’, and ‘Annie Laurie’,
‘White Wings’, and other songs; her voice was sweet.
I never gave enough, and I am sorry;
But we were all closed in the same defeat.

People do what they can; they were good people,
They cared for us and loved us. Once they stood
Tall in my childhood as the school, the steeple.
How can I judge without ingratitude?

Judgment is simply trying to reject
A part of what we are because it hurts.
The living cannot call the dead collect:
They won’t accept the charge, and it reverts.

It’s my own judgment day that I draw near,
Descending in the past, without a clue,
Down to that central deadness: the despair
Older than any Hope I ever knew.

Postscript from today’s Crikey.

The Devil and Tony Abbott

By Charles Richardson

It was a much smaller group than paid to hear Mark Steyn a couple of weeks ago, but those who turned up at Melbourne’s Institute of Public Affairs last night not only got their food and drink for free, but got more intellectual nourishment than Steyn would have provided.

Tony Staley, Tony Abbott and Peter Coleman all spoke to launch the reprint of Coleman’s biography of poet and Catholic activist James McAuley, The Heart of James McAuley (Connor Court publishing). Not surprisingly, media comment has focused on Abbott’s contribution; The Australian provides an excerpt this morning, while The Age reports it as news.

But what was newsworthy was not anything Abbott said, but simply the fact that a federal minister can hold his own in a serious intellectual discussion. I should say that I think Abbott’s worldview is spectacularly mistaken. He says that his ethical positions do not depend on religion, even though only religious people hold them (ever seen an atheist right-to-lifer?); he says that his opponents are opposed to the idea of truth just because they do not agree with his “truth”.

But there is an intellectual, even humanistic core to traditional Catholic scholarship, and Abbott showed his command of it in impressive fashion. It’s hard to see any of his ministerial colleagues putting on such a performance. Most of them would be intensely uncomfortable in such an environment; they gladly cheer Steyn’s fevered rantings, but to debate ideas rather than prejudices is beyond them.

Nonetheless, it’s important to point out how selective Abbott’s history is. Yes, the Catholic church tolerated humanists like Erasmus and More, but it persecuted many others, and for centuries it fought scientific and political progress every step of the way. In the last century, the Catholic political movement of which McAuley was a part gave aid and comfort to the fascist regimes that dragged Europe back to barbarism.

And just today it is reported that the Pope’s advisers are scheming to revisit the church’s backing of evolution, opening the door to support for the madness of creationism.

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Tony Harris
Tony Harris(@tony-harris)
15 years ago

Of course the left-bashers need to move on and offer more positive leads into the future. Although the cultural scene is still pretty well dominated by unreconstucted lefties.

For more on James McAuley http://www.the-rathouse.com/Revivalist.html

And on Peter Coleman http://www.the-rathouse.com/PeterColeman.html

Tony Harris
Tony Harris(@tony-harris)
15 years ago

A very moving piece.
For more on the Anglo Saxon taboo on tenderness.

Amanda
15 years ago

The best McAuley poem is still “D

Rafe Champion
Rafe Champion
15 years ago

testing

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

Rafe

I think Akismet must interpret your comment as spam if you insert two or more hyperlinks in a row like that. It’s a bit of a nuisance on occasion but it certainly seems to stop just about all the actual spam, which is a blessing. It stopped about 50 real spam comments yesterday alone, most of them very distasteful lists of porn links.

Rafe Champion
Rafe Champion
15 years ago

Thanks Ken, I will split multiple links in future.

There is one to go, on the topic of the very touching poem that Nicholas reproduced, reflecting as it does the old Anglo Saxon taboo on tenderness that Suttie explored in the 1930s in a most unfortunately little known attempt to revise psychoanalysis along more scientific and humanistic lines.

Rafe Champion
Rafe Champion
15 years ago

And people wonder why I am paranoid!

Geoff R
15 years ago

James McAuley was the type of loathsome political airhead who is today attracted to Islamic fundamentalism. A would-be intellectual playing at violence. Maybe Jack Thomas is a poet? McAuley loathed those who defended a Christian democratic politics in Australia such as Cardinal Gilroy. McAuley was a devotee of Mannix, a vain and overrated man and even more of Santamaria a man who aspired to be a serious danger to liberal democracy in Australia and was definitely a danger to the welfare of Australian Catholics. Maybe McAuley was a good poet but Mel Gibson has made some good films.

Tony Harris
Tony Harris(@tony-harris)
15 years ago

Geoff, what is your problem with McAuley’s role in the Australian resistance to local and international communism? That movement was the major threat to civilisation before the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

Do you think that Santamaria should have stood idle while communists took over the major trade unions?

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

I thought The Passion of the Christ was an excellent if harrowing movie, and I even blogged about it here at the time. And lots of people whose judgment I respect (including Jen) reckon Braveheart was a pretty good example of its genre (although I’ve never bothered to sit through it when someone has been playing it on DVD).

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
15 years ago

“What good films has Mel Gibson made?”

‘The Year of Living Dangerously’ and ‘Gallipoli’ weren’t bad. I’m still not sure about ‘Passion.’ ‘Braveheart’ was an overblown, star-vehicle wallow in ahistorical Scottish nostalgia kitsch. I did like the scene where the Scottish army bared their bums en masse to the evil English and still wonder why the English didn’t seize the moment to charge….

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

Geoff

I had assumed that Nicholas’s question related to movies for which Gibson had some general creative responsibility e.g. as director or producer. I agree that ‘The Year of Living Dangerously’ and ‘Gallipoli’ weren’t bad movies and that Gibson gave workmanlike performances in both, but he certainly didn’t have any creative responsibility beyond his own acting performance.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
15 years ago

Actually, I have to say that ‘Passion’ didn’t resonate with me as a vehicle for anti-semitism at all. As far as the finished product is concerned, fears on that particular score weren’t realised, whatever Mel’s personal take on the issue might be. The movie places Jesus very much as a Jewish man among Jewish people.

My major problem with ‘Passion’ is the relentless – almost pornographic – attention paid to the scourging of Jesus. Minute after dragging minute of skin splitting, blood splattering, bodily disintegration, etc. I’m still not sure what to make of it, though people who are into heavy duty S&M probably would.

Actually, in ‘Passion,’ it’s the scourging Romans who wear the black hats normally assigned to the English in much of the rest of Mel’s oeuvre. If you haven’t seen “the Patriot” – Mel’s hilariously ahistorical romp through the American War of Independence, you should. Suffice it to say that it’s Mel not George Washington who beats the Brits, the colonists are apparently fighting the Brits to rid the colonies of slavery and the activities of the Brits make the Waffen SS look like a bunch of UN Peacekeepers. Heath Ledger inexplicably accepted a supporting role in it before going on to redeeem himself in the extraordinary ‘Brokeback Mountain’ with the kind of performance that Mel will never muster.

And I think I’m signifiicantly off-topic :)

Rafe Champion
Rafe Champion
15 years ago

The James McAuley roadshow moves to The Sydney Institute next week (Tuesday) where Peter Coleman and Dame Leonie Kramer will perform.

Phone 9252 3366 to book a seat.

Last night Clare O’Farrell was talking about Foucault.

http://catallaxyfiles.com/?p=2034

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

Nicholas

I don’t accept that The Passion of The Christ was anti-semitic as such, and I went to see it in a deeply sceptical frame of mind about Gibson. Here’s what I said in my Troppo review at the time:

The one area where I agree to a limited extent with Phillip Adams (and others) is that there is a faint overtone of anti-semitism in Gibson’s Passion. Not so much in its depiction of the hatefulness of the Sanhedrin and the Jewish mob baying for Jesus’ crucifixion, as in what Gibson omitted to say. It would be impossible to create a ‘truthful’ portrayal of Christ’s passion without depicting the Sanhedrin and the Jewish mob as principal agents of his crucifixion. But Gibson failed clearly to make the point that mob rule and irrational blood lust are not the sole preserve of Jews or any other group. It’s a universal tendency of the dark side of human nature, negated only by love and forgiveness. That message was certainly present for those who cared to look, but given the long, bloody and ongoing history of anti-semitism in western culture, it should have been made much more strongly. Whether that notable omission sprang from the attitudes of Gibson’s father Hutton I just don’t know, and I’m not sure it really matters.

I suppose there are some parallels with the notorious nazi-symapthising philosopher Martin Heidegger. Given the radically repugnant nature of his revealed opinions and affiliations, one would be wise to approach all his work with a deeply sceptical mindset. Nevertheless, the work itself must still ultimately be evaluated as such.

Droo
Droo
15 years ago

I was naive enough to actually think this blog represented a real middle ground view of Australia and Australian politics. I can see I was wrong. This post re the McAuley launch and its completely unquestioning acceptance of the right-wing politicians at the launch and their attack on the left, puts Mr Gruen firmly at the right of the political spectrum. How disappointing!

Rob
Rob
15 years ago

Ken – I think you have to see the violence done to Christ in the context of His taking all the suffering of the world on Himself, in a quite literal sense. And remember that Satan is manifest throughout the film in many guises – including those who tortured Him, whom He redeemed by His suffering at their hands.

[The capitalisation seems appropriate, somehow.]

meika
15 years ago

for some reason I got an email saying there is a new comment at this blog post (it was droo’s (you’re wrong droo) how could this be? I’ve not commented on this post, odd

Though I do think James McAuley’s best work is his collab on Ern MAllley, everything is quite dull (I particularly love the line ‘black swan of trespass’)

maybe that’s why I got sent droo’s post