Frank Moorhouse, author of the beloved Edith trilogy, delivers the Australian Society of Authors’ 2015 Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture on the topic, 'Does the imagination have ethics?'.
A journalist, Colin Simpson is perhaps best remembered for his role in exposing the Ern Malley hoax of 1944. He wrote prolifically and was employed by the ABC to write travel documentaries. These led to a career as an author of many popular travel books, often about the North of Australia.
His work with the Australian Society of Authors was instrumental in securing Public Lending Right legislation for Australian authors. For his services to Australian literature, he was made OBE in 1981. The Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture commemorates his memory and his place in Australian literature.
2015 Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture
Frank Moorhouse: Does the Imagination have Ethics?
Location: National Library of Australia
Speaker/s: Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, Director General National Library of Australia, Angelo Loukakis and Frank Moorhouse
Anne-Marie Schwirtlich: Distinguished guests and dear friends, good morning and welcome to the National Library of Australia. I’m Anne-Marie Schwirtlich and it is my great joy to be the Director General of the National Library. As we begin I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land. I thank their elders past and present for caring for the land that we are now privileged to call home. It is an honour for the Library to welcome you for this lecture named in honour of Australian journalist Colin Simpson and presented by Frank Moorhouse. Both Colin and Frank and part of the National Library family. We hold Colin’s personal papers, portraits, oral history recordings and of course his books and you can read some of his journalism on Trove. We’re delighted that Frank is back at the Library where he has been a researcher, writer and guest speaker. He too lives at the Library as he is represented across our collections. We take great pride in the Library's contribution to the Edith trilogy. This contribution dates back to 1997 when Frank received a Harold White fellowship to research the papers relating to the League of Nations.
This is the first time the Library is hosting the Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture and we were delighted to be asked to do so by our friends, the Australian Society of Authors. The Library has had a long relationship with the ASA and its members are at the heart of our collections and we very much appreciate the Society’s advocacy on behalf of Australian writers and Australian literature. And now it’s my great pleasure to introduce Angelo Loukakis, Executive Director of the Australian Society of Authors. As well as leading the ASA Angelo has an impressive background as a teacher, a script writer, an editor and a publisher and so I’d ask you to please welcome Angelo Loukakis.
Angelo Loukakis: Well thank you, Anne-Marie, for that warm and much appreciated welcome. The structure of today’s event is very simple, I introduce Frank, Frank speaks and then there’s a short time ... not a very long time ... a short time for some questions at the end. So just to further my thanks on behalf of the ASA to the National Library, Anne Marie, we’re very happy to be here, this is a natural venue as you I think were suggesting for authors and our activities and so you know the gesture is appreciated, I hope we do more of these events in future. So it’s my very great pleasure to also introduce to you today Frank Moorhouse, thinker, writer, doer and that’s DOER because Frank is never dour.
Frank Moorhouse: He’s also dour.
Angelo Loukakis: Bon vivant and Boulevardier and of course hero of the ASA. As an author Frank’s achievements are prodigious, the Edith novels and his Miles Franklin win perhaps more in the public eye these days but many of us also know him as one of the best short story writers ever to appear in this country. The American’s Baby, The Electrical Experience, these and other collections of his were great ground-breaking books, books which certainly influenced my own writing and the writing of numerous other Australian authors over the years. I won’t try to describe the breadth and qualities of Frank’s writing, these have been duly noted elsewhere and indeed publicly celebrated on many occasions including in 2013 when he was honoured with the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. Frank has been many things in his life and is many things today. A distinguished author with numerous successful works to his name but also very much a contemporary author whose writing also addresses critical aspects of the here and now no matter in which period his books are set.
The title of today’s Colin Simpson Lecture, the subject he will address here, is indicative of his continuing engagement with questions of the day. But I want to say something about Frank Moorhouse as a historical figure too, not in any chronological or ageist terms, instead to say of him that ... this is also a person who has worked over a long period beginning way back on behalf of the rights and welfare of Australian authors as well as in the interests of Australian readers and who has made a difference in ways that resonate for us right now. When I said Frank is a hero of the Australian Society of Authors I really mean it. Not only a champion for authors who are members of our organisation but for those who may not be officially subscribed. For instance it’s not that well known outside writers’ circles that Frank was a central player in the achievement of one of the most important regulatory changes to ever affect authors in this country, the implementation of a reprographic rights regime that made a huge difference ... still does ... to the working lives of authors, the institution of payment for the copying of our work. The copyright agency we have today which is so vital in keeping authors alive and writing is the result of an enormous amount of hard work by Frank and his comrades in earlier days. That was lawmaking stuff on which we are still very reliant.
It is not for nothing that Frank is today a celebrated member of the Council of the ASA. Then as well he has contributed enormously ... contributed enormously to the fight for the freedom to write. As a member of PEN he’s always been there to support writers around the world who have been imprisoned for daring to write and speak as they wish to write and speak. At home there are new threats to freedom of expression, indeed to the very idea of liberty itself. Some of the battles to be able to write without being thwarted or punished by reactionaries of one stripe or another, battles that he and others were engaged in once upon a time we see now depressingly must be fought again. We know that Frank will be in the front lines again with us as we deal with an increasingly oppressive Australian state. His fellow authors look to his leadership once more. Today we will see Frank seated to give his talk for reasons I will leave to him to describe but ladies and gentlemen, this is no defeated warrior, no Spartan warrior brought home on his shield, this is we’re all certain merely a temporary setback for one of our very best, someone who I’ve known for a great many years, call a friend and who I commend to you all. Please everyone welcome Frank Moorhouse to give the 2015 Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture.
Angelo Loukakis: Thank you.
Frank Moorhouse: Thank you. Thank you, Angelo, and thank you to the Library to host us today and thank you to the ... you to come ... for coming out today, I was in the green room and I was thinking that back in the late 1900s and into the early 20th century there, there were ... the socialist movement and the humanist movement decided to replace Church Sunday schools with socialist Sunday schools and instead of going to church we went to a lecture. Well you’ll certainly get preached at today. I’ll do that bit and you may be praying for the end.
I just will say a few short words about Colin Simpson. I ... Colin was a very successful travel writer and I met Colin when I became President of the Society of Authors in 1981, a position I held for three years. I took over from Manning Clark and was followed by Donald Horn. If you think I’m a preacher if they were sitting here today you’d have a great speech, a great preach. They were very dramatic years for the ASA. The victories were led by two men, by Colin Simpson and Gus O’Donnell and of course the work of many committee members and ASA members behind the scenes lobbying and planning. Gus O’Donnell as was mentioned by Angelo was ... had the copyright portfolio and about which authors didn’t have a clue ... authors have very little clues about the way their industry works, if it’s an industry .. but it was Gus O’Donnell who drummed into us, lectured us, philosophised to us, tutored us in the laws of copyright, bringing home to us that that was all we had to negotiate with in our lives, that is, the right of someone to copy our work for profit. And it is what it literally means, it’s the right to copy, copyright. And as he pointed out this is the very economoic and philosophical core of our life and it’s the copyright law that protects our talents and we have to control it and protect our copyright and the law or we have nothing. And of course that flows through to readers.
The ... but Colin Simpson was the other half of the fighting team, his portfolio was public lending rights portfolio. I met ... when I met Colin he was a dapper man, very active man, a very bright man and he was trying to convince the Society of Authors and the rest of the country that we needed something called public lending right. It was again another mystery to most writers, they saw that along with copyright reform as being a pipedream, the idea that we would pain for the presence of our work in libraries and later in the educational library system, they thought ... most writers thought that was a pipedream and there was fat chance of it ever coming off. Colin advocated it first in 1956 and then meeting after meeting, conversation after conversation, argument after argument, letter after letter, buttonholing after buttonholing, lobbying after lobbying, trying to convince the pessimistic writing community that it was feasible. The idea by the way started in Denmark and was implemented there in ’46 but in the world it had not spread quickly but Colin understood it ... had understood it and caught on and he was ... and consequently brought the whole idea of a just return to writers for the giving of free use of their books through the public library system. So Colin was not far behind Denmark in the world in leading pub ... the evolution of public lending right.
So both Gus and Colin had to overcome apathy of the writing community who never believed they’d ever be properly paid for the work and then there were of course the romantic part of the writing community which believes that ... who wants ... we’re too deeply involved in our work to worry about money although I find fewer and fewer of those around. So public lending right was made ... first payment was made to authors in March 1975. He’d been arguing and fighting for 25 years. He talked public lending right for 25 years. There was opposition from librarians who thought the money would be taken from their budgets, from those people who saw it as a threat to the free library system because they thought that the readers might be asked to pay for the books and again there was a feeling that ... that is the fatalistic apathy of writers. So the great lessons taught ... and the great lessons taught to us by writers like Gus O’Donnell and Colin Simpson who were not ... although Colin was successful, Gus had written some good novels but they were ... he was not well known. He said he wrote the best novel about New Guinea during the war and there was only one book written about New Guinea during the war from ... at that time.
It ... the less ... the real great lessons he taught I think the Society of Authors and perhaps other small organisations that have good ideas but no economic bargaining power ... of course the writers couldn’t go on strike. We did threaten to pull our books out of libraries but that was an impossible idea. Some bookseller ... one idea was that we should go and borrow our books from our local library and get our friends to borrow our book ... and other writers borrow their books and not return them. We all ended up with heavy fines. But by some civic persistence, by advancing the thinking behind good ideas and through educating a membership and then educating what we would call the stakeholders and the politicians and the public servants, it was long, hard work. And we ... and Colin and Gus achieved their aim. Many members of the ASA contributed to the fight of course as I said and the extension of public lending right to the libraries that are in schools and universities was also another fight, that was s... and that’s called education lending right ... educational lending right and people like Robert Pullen and Nadia Weekly and Libby Gleeson were ... led those fights on the back of course the great victory of Colin Simpson.
So it demonstrated and taught us that writers should not forget ... and this might apply to other organisations ... that we have special talents that .. of storytelling, the poet, the biographer and the special status in the society that writers give respect .. are given respect and viewed in some cases by awe I find still regardless of the glamorous new technologies. And that we can use this status and our talents to win our rights in the economic ... hard world of economics, we can win. So it is my honour to be giving the Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture this year and it’s an honour to have known him and those members of the ASA who won those great battles.
The title of the talk I’d like to give today ... excuse me by the way for not standing but I’ve got bad knee problem. Was ... does the imagination have an ethics? In 1934 ... in 1934 a musical written by Cole Porter debuted on Broadway, it was Does Anything Go? Was the title of the show and of course title song in the show. And it’s been revived many times and produced many times. I’m tempted to sing the song, Does Anything Go? And I practised and I thought no, that’s ... it’s hard enough to get people to come to hear me talk let alone get people to come and hear me sing. And it’s never happened, I doubt whether it will but some of you might like to sing along. That’s ... that’s a good idea. Right, here’s the song, Does Anything Go? Times have changed ... I’m going to recite it .. times have changed since the puritans got a shock when they landed on Plymouth Rock, if today any shock they should try to stem instead of landing on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock would land on them. In olden days the glimpse of a stocking was looked at as something shocking but now God knows anything goes. Good authors too who once knew better words now only use four-letter words. Writing prose, anything goes. If driving fast cars you like, if low bars you like, if old hymns you like, if bare limbs you like, if Mae West you like or me undressed you like, why, nobody will oppose, anything goes. That was 1934, that was Cole Porter. I could have undressed. What about the lines good authors too who once knew better words now only use four-letter words. And that was 1934.
But of course something else happened and the song was certainly influenced by what happened in literature that year. By the way fast ... driving fast cars is ... no, that doesn’t go anymore. I don’t like driving from here to Sydney, no, fast cars are ... I don’t think that goes, Cole. Does anything now ... anything go now in the arts or more particularly for us in the literary art of the novel which is probably where I keep drifting back to while talking more generally about ... as I said curiously ... oh, there’s a nice little curious footnote here, the musical Anything Goes was set on board an ocean liner and the original plot involved a bomb threat, a shipwreck, high jinx on a desert island but just a few weeks before the show was due to open a fire on board the passenger ship, Morro Castle, caused the death of 138 passengers and crew members. The producer, Vinton Freedly, judged that to proceed with the show on a similar subject which was a comic, a humorous would be in dubious taste and the opening was delayed. An ethical decision.
But the really important thing that it ... the song ... if you like I like to think the song celebrates, the thing that it should ... it does celebrate in my mind is that in 1934 ... that in 1934 the English-speaking world at last ... at least the US .. could at last read James Joyce’s Ulysses. The American courts in ’34 affirmed that the book was not obscene, was in fact also literature although looking at the judgement it said .. it also seemed to say that in the right hands obscenity can become art. And it’s now of course acknowledged as one of the greatest novels written. And the fight to get that book published had been going on since 1918 so ... but then the fight was over. Except in Australia because we didn’t get to read it until 1953. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that amazing? Was banned until ’53. If you haven't read the book I recommend it.
And someone said that there are those people who’ve read the book, there are those people who pretend to have read the book, there are some people who’ve read the sexual parts of the book which last page and then there are some journalists who think people who say they’ve read the book are posers. But it took me three attempts to read Ulysses. I tried to read it in my 20s ‘cause I thought it was desperately, desperately important for a young writer to read Ulysses and I tried to read it and couldn’t but I said I read ... had read it. And then I tried a little later in my late 20s and still found it ... the thing that got in the way of reading it is not only is it a great play with words and a great play with styles, it’s ... and a great play with the imagination but it has such awe now that we pick up the book and think oh, can I handle this? And then the awe got in the way and then somewhere in my 30s it ... I started to read it and it worked wonderfully well and it was a great read and it is a great read once you get used to the rhythms of it.
But in the ... so in the lecture this year I wanted to explore whether everything goes. What are the current taboos? New sensitivities and questions of vilification and hate speech and offence and attempts to limit the imagination in one way or another. While working on ... I had virtually writing Following That Line when the Charlie Hebdo magazine in France was having a meeting and some Islamic terrorists broke into the office and shot dead the staff of the magazine. We’d had ... before that we’d had some cartoons in Denmark which had featured Mohammed and had been ... caused serious unrest among the Islamic community and remember there was also a fatwah issued against Salman Rushdie which required him to have police protection for years and to remain pretty much in hiding, changing addresses pretty much and the threat’s still out there. But what happened this month and changed ... caused the complete rewriting of this talk which ... and probably robbed it of some of its fluency was that Charlie Hebdo and the violence ... violent slaughtering of its staff has created a significant change in the threats and resistance to the freedom of the imagination and I wanted to look in some details at what is happening ... what this might mean to us and what other people think it might mean to us about ... as readers and as writers. It has incredible, incredible implications.
In the past where there have been theatres burned down ... there’s been ... there have been audiences at operas who booed down the opera because it offended them or they thought it wasn’t up to standard or was too radical but nothing quite like the slaughtering of the staff of this magazine has happened. The use of the imagination in the arts particularly in literary forms such as fiction and drama has developed during the 19th centuries and 20th century has developed a tradition of anything goes and ... and for constant experiment. The ... remember there was once the concept of the avant garde which implies a pressure on artists to break boundaries, to break the rules and that has been its ... strongly embedded in western lit ... arts traditions for the last few hundred ... two hundred years at least.
But were ... but now we are faced with a very .. the question about whether some things cannot now be imagined and if they can be imagined cannot be expressed in literature for fear that our work will encourage or endorse evil or provoke social unrest, social cohesion and violence in the streets. Is the great tradition that we’ve ... we have been living out for the last few hundred years for the untrammelled artistic imagination as being perhaps the most important way we have of exploring and expressing the human condition and human sensibility in all its manifestations and by so doing moving us along the path to a more civilised word, that is, the more we understand about the darkness of the human species the more we’re guided by the arts, the safer we will be. The more we know, the more we understand, the safer we will be and to not have an imag ... not have the literary imagination free to go in its bold and dark directions will be to limit our understanding of ourselves as a species. And that is underlying tenet I think of the freedom of the imagination. And of course many of us would answer yes but I think the events caused by Hebdo have brought to us questions that we’ve never had to face.
Just wanted to make quick separation out of a few words here, ethics, law, morality, sin, sin, I’ve never talked about sin enough, I’ve been practising it but ... and we have words that are in that ... buried in either law, ethics or morality and those words are vilification and what is known as hate speech. The law has always limited imagination though less and less. You can still be sued for defamation. We like to kid ourselves that by changing the name of the per ... of one of our friends called Donald Day to Jack Knight won’t get us out of the courts. It’s ... it is possible no matter how much disguise that you lay on on a real person and put them in a novel, if there are people who can recognise him or her you are still libel so there are restraints, we can’t plagiarise for good reasons. Although you can do that ... some poets argue you can do that now as a way of creating a new work. There was a short story published last Christmas in The Australian which drew on about 20 short story writers and it drew parts from our books including three parts from some of my books, I was pleased to see. I thought I’d been forgotten but this young writer ... what’s his name? It’ll come of me ... created a story out of parts and painters have been doing this too, of copying other painters out ... putting other people’s paintings into their paintings, appropriation. So that there’s always been fights ... and of course obscenity and sexuality was excluded by law for quite a while and only pretty much began to ... the law began to change and retreat back in 1934 with Ulysses.
Morality and ethics are a different part of the same pressures that come up against the imagination. So the way I try often to separate morality from ethics but of cour ... in common usage they run together, the moralists say that there are certain rules within our ... should be imposed on the imagination, on the arts to bring about a less indecent society or to create a more ... a society which is less confronting. And often of course morality ... moralists draw on a supernatural authority or divine doctrines for their authority. Even if the law is ... does not wish to be involved, there is still pressure groups that attempt to limit what the ... where the imagination should go and what it can do.
The separation of morality and law was stated most strongly in 1957 when Luf ... Lord Wolfenden whose committee recommended to the British government that homosexuality should no longer be a criminal offence and Wolfenden’s report states unless a deliberate attempt is made by our society to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin there must remain a realm of private morality and immorality which is not the law’s business. So we have morality and the law parting ways. In some societies of course they are the same thing, there are still ... and of course many religions still fight to have sins made in ... illegal and to stop the arts from endorsing sin or ... and of course to stop the imagination being used to ... in forms of blasphemy and there are ... many countries of the world still have blasphemy laws.
Denmark is reconsidering bringing in blasphemy laws without much support from the population but the ... they make ... I see that they make a distinction about racial .. vilifying an individual because of their religion and as ... and quite as separate from in fact attacking all religion. And there’s ... an old argument has flared up there ... up again and the idea of blasphemy being dangerous to social cohesion or social order is now being discussed, sadly. And then I use the word ethics to describe those proposed rules and arrangements outside law and outside religious morality which a community arrives at and codifies as being a significant part of the community, believing that these rules and arrangements are best for safe, peaceful, tolerant, inclusive ways of living together and the practices which assume among ... and for practise which are assumed to be among ... part of any civilised community.
Ethics as with morality are not part of the legal system although it may ... the legal system may at times reinforce them and set benchmarks or set standards which the community should strive to live by. So we ... up ‘til ... pretty much up ‘til this month what we would ... a lot of us ... most of us and I make assumptions about you here today because you’re here and not at mass and you’re here to talk about writing that we still the vocation of writing as being very central ... a central value and the freedom of expression to be a central value to the decent and civilised society. And as ways of ... as the only ways we can find our way to a deep and ... perception and deep understanding of what we are as a species.
Another one of the things connected to our ... the code of liter ... of arts ethics or literary ethics was arts ... the expression arts for arts’ sake and this expressed a philosophy which is current and part of our ... I think part of our ethos, our arts ethos in western countries ... expresses the philosophy that the intrinsic value of art and the only true art is divorced from any didactic, moral or utilitarian function. Such works as described as autotilectic, complete in themselves and self-justifying, a concept that has been expanded to embrace the idea that the true arts are inner-directed and should remain inner-directed, that is, that they come from the artist and the artist should be free to go where the artist wishes. After all the understanding was that the words ... that words are not deeds. To describe a ... in great, great detail for instance a concentration ... Nazi concentration camp is not to establish a Nazi concentration camp, it’s ... and it’s the enlightenment commitment that ... involved here is that the free wanderings of the imagination especially into the dark and taboo zones of human sensibility is the prime ... primary imperative of art and it will somehow ... somehow ... it’s partly a faith, it’s not a scientifically established fact but it’s a faith that somehow the human spirit is enhanced by looking into the chasm of evil and to imagine it and to confront it through imagination and to live it out through the imagination.
So it’s ... the posture of this western literary tradition is that the serious artist alone determines the subject of their art and pursues it in his or her way to the natural conclusion in a creative enterprise who transforms their world experience and perceptions into art, into an artwork. Two book ... well two of the books of the 20th century ... one I think is the 21st century ... is ... one was the ... that are examples of ... perhaps of the free-ranging of the imagination which were permitted and gained from, one is Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night. He was a Nazi and his book is essentially an exploration of the Nazi subculture. And so is Jonathan Latell’s book The Kindly Ones. That was published in the 21st century which I consider a very important book. It’s written from the point of view of an SS officer. And I use those as two examples of the sort of places that we are happy to permit the imagination to go even if we don’t like what it is.
There is an English jurist, William Blackstone, 1723-1780, who wrote a treatise on the common law which says ... which remains an important source by the way of our comm ... principles of common law and Blackstone said ... oh before I ... before I quote this, I had two pet hens and one was called Blackstone and one was called Whitestone. I must have been reading Blackstone or had been ... someone ... one of my lawyer friends must have suggested I read what Blackstone had to say and I liked what Blackstone had to say so much I named one of the hens Blackstone and the other one Whitestone and they were very impressive and they ... I had a study in the garden and they would come and visit me every day. They had a round, they’d do the gardens and do a lot of weeding and worm-hunting and whatever hens do all day and rolling in dust, dirt, have a dirt bath and ... and they had a routine and it was ... I was very gratified that part of their routine was to come in and not actually peck my feet but to come in and see what I was up to and be a presence in my life. That’s called a discursion. They were lovely hens. And they do have ... I ... there were obvious signs of intelligence, there was intelligent life in the hen.
William Blackstone said every free man has an undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public. This is ... we’re back in the 1700s. Every free man has an undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public, to forbid this is to destroy the freedom of the press. But if he publishes what is improper, mischievous or illegal he must take the consequences of his own temerity. So what this laid down, and it’s been adopted in ... to a degree and often totally in some of the we ... in western countries is yes, there should be absolute freedom to publish but then you having published and the book having reached the hands of the citizens, then the author has to confront and accept the consequence of his own temerity. He was arguing against pre-censoring, the setting up of a committee to read all books before they were published or newspapers being by a commi ... by public servants or by the police before they were published.
Well temerity most of us ... most writers do f ... and all writers have published and faced the consequences of their temerity. They publish of course in fear of harsh criticism, of ridicule, of serious error, a fear of failure to find a readership, fear of the ... his friends ... loss of friends who identify themselves and who sometimes sue although as I said that is very, very rare now. Thank God. And then there’s ... the other part of temerity is that the ... he or she, the writer, always has to answer the question do I have sufficient talent to undertake the creation of this book, to play with people’s lives, to create these experience, to imagine these things and to put them in print and to offer them to the public? And so part ... I would have ... if I hadn’t decided to change this talk I would have looked at the negotiations that are involved in working with the ... not only the novel but of course with memoir and biography and ... but certainly even working with the novel, with imaginative fiction, one of the great negotiations is with one’s friends and family and intimates and those around us and workmates who think they see themselves in the book and there is a negotiation for the right to do this, to play with other people’s lives and generally of course it’s granted and it causes divorces. Although if ... when you’re ... when it’s a ... wife is ... the wife is a writer and the husband is a writer then they can write books about each other and make money and get their own back at the same time.
But one ... but there were ethics involved in writing about ... and quite ... most ... many novels draw on living people and there are ethics there but essentially it was anything goes, I think, and you lived with the temerity and I think anyone who’s written and written with ... has said oh well, I’m going to put her in the book, this ... what happened is going to go in the book. I don’t care what my mother says. Although Peter Carey who comes up later in this talk ... Peter Carey says that whenever he finishes his book he thinks what will my mother say? So there are pressures, there are ethics ... consideration ... ethical considerations go on all the time and as I said the underlying philosophy of western literature was anything goes. That’s since 1934.
The contract ... the contract that we’re talking about here is ... that the contract of the writer is not with his friends and intimates and workmates and with living people around him, his primary contract is with the reader and the reader/writer contract is that the writer promises to share with the reader what he or she, the writer, has experienced of the human condition, to tell stories as well as their talents ... our talents will allow in the great traditions of the great missions of the enlightenment of science, scholarship and the arts, investigating without inhibition, investigating the human conditions without malice, that is, I’m not ... I think there are still ethics of use of the arts for private malice and for cruel ... revenge and mischief. Tennessee Williams says the only ethic is that one should never use one’s writing talents for intentional cruelty, that was his only ethic.
So ... which brings us to temerity of a much more serious ... and the consequences of a much more serious kind that has now fallen on us this month with Hebdo. The French maga ... I hadn’t known about the magazine and nor have I actually put my hands on a copy. I’ve seen reproductions of pages and sections of it. Was ... anyone here has read the magazine? Or physically seen it? No. Oh good, great, you should come out and talk about it. The French magazine only came to international attention when two French Algerian terrorists stormed the offices in Paris on January the 7th 2015, this last January. The terrorists murdered 12 people and injured 11 other and shot dead most of the staff of the magazine who were planning an antiracism issue. You pretty much know that in the tragedy’s wake Je suis Charlie became an international slogan for freedom of speech, support of freedom of speech and the adage that the pen is mightier than the sword and we’ve all seen the processions in many cities of the world where people held up a pen as they marched through ... as they marched through in ... both in mourning and in solidarity with the magazine.
Charlie Hebdo issue number 1178 was the first issue published after the murders and once again depicted the prophet Mohammed, this time the prophet Mohammed was shedding a tear and holding up a sign, Je suis Charlie, I am Charlie as you remember the French slogan, Je suis Charlie went around the world and people had badges and t-shirts saying that, we are all Charlie.
Well the magazine ... we have ... as far as I can ... I ... in most western countries, do not have magazines quite like Hebdo. It’s irreverent, audacious, fatalistic, nihilistic, it’s ... vilifies, it desecrates, it’s iconoclastic ... it breaks down icons, it’s not an organ of any group or movement intending to bring about social change of any dangerous kind, it represents a fierce distaste for formal elements of religion, political office and the hypocrisies of the respectable and so on and it’s a magazine opposed to hypocrisy and opposed to religions and all its ... religions’ dangers.
I’ll just quote to you here from a New Yorker article about it. It is a symbol of a French satirical tradition, the magazine has been a continual celebration of freedom, to make fun of everyone and everything. It follows the great tradition of Voltaire and other magazines that go back in the history of France. It has been described as an arco-libertarian but it practises according to The New Yorker a freewheeling dyspeptic satire without clear ideological lines. The right-wing leader, Marine Le Pen, has sued Charlie Hebdo for depiction of her. The socialist president of France at present, Hollande, was revealed to be having an affair and the magazine’s cover showed him with his zipper open and his penis exposed. This is a taste of what the magazine is like. Islamic fundamentalism has long been the magazine’s many targets and in February 2006 Charlie Hebdo reprinted the cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed that also appeared earlier in a Danish newspaper and had caused violent protests in the Muslim world.
The ... one of the cartoonists, Julian Burgoot, once spoke of the difficulty of making fun of Islam in France. You can’t beat up on a minority religion in quite the same way as on a majority religion, he said. If there is so much hysteria provoked by these cartoons it’s because there’s a lot of anti-Arab and a lot of anti-Muslim racism in Europe and this is one of the uneasy links that the magazine stumbles into, that is, that it pleases the racists when that’s not its of course aim. A cover that ... one cover that summed up its raison d’etre, the magazine showed a caveman holding a fiery torch in one hand and a cup of oil on the other and the caption read the birth of humour, pouring oil into the fire. Next ... and the next issue ... and then the issue was labelled with the banner irresponsible magazine. The second edition of that week’s issue was labelled responsible magazine and came out with a blank cover. The message was clear, that the staff of Charlie Hebdo believed that satire was an all or nothing proposition. I’m quoting here from The New Yorker, by the way.
In keeping up with this spirit Charlie did not let up on Islamic fundamentalism even after its office was bombed ... this was before they were gunned down ... and its website was hacked a number of times. The magazine has run special issues supposedly with guests edited by Mohammed which featured a cover that showed the prophet saying a hundred lashes if you don’t die laughing. And Charlie Hebdo responded to another attack with a cover that showed a bearded man in traditional Muslim dress being kissed by a male magazine staffer with the words love is stronger than hate.
For my ... my impression is that Charlie Hebdo magazine was not always as funny as it could be. I didn’t think that joke was so funny but ... and there’s been quite a bit of criticism of its crudity of style. I suppose one of the expre ... one of the impressions I have is that it might be what we would call undergraduate which is probably unfair to undergraduates. Just as an interesting statistic here, La Monde has pointed out that only seven of Charlie Hebdo’s 523 covers since it’s been publishing ridicules Islam, seven out of 500.
So what’s happened? And we’re coming to the end here. You may know that the pen ... American Pen ... where am I? American Pen on May the 5th this year honoured the magazine Charlie Hebdo with the pen Tony and James C Goodall Freedom of Expression Courage Award in a response to the January 7 attacks that claimed the lives of the staff members. So Pen on May the 5th had dinner and a ... if you like a ... and made these awards and celebrated the courage of the magazine.
Some writers came out in opposition to the making of this award and one was Peter Carey ... some of you might have read his books ... and ... don’t let that get back to him ... Peter Carey, Michael Onduchy, Francine Prose, Toujou Cole, Rachel Kushner and Tay Selassey and they withdrew their support for the award and refused to come to the dinner.
What did Peter Carey ... each of them had roughly the same sort of position and what was Peter Carey’s position then? Peter says that the ... first of all that it was outside the role of Pen to make awards to magazines such as ... of Charlie Hebdo and that the role of Pen was protect ... to protect the freedom of expression from government opposition, not from terrorists. His second position is that Pen, by making this ... American Pen, by making this award, is in fact ignoring the guilt of American foreign policies. He says it confuses a hideous crime, he says ... Peter says ... a hideous crime was committed but was it a freedom of speech issue for Pen ... American to be self-righteous about? He said that all this is complicated by Pen’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation which does not recognise its moral obligations to the large and disempowered segment of their population of Muslims. The population ... Muslim population by the way of France is about 6 to 8%. However the Muslim religion may only be a minority in France but of course the Muslim religion constitutes the world’s second largest religious group. And there are 49 Muslim majority countries.
Some of the other authors that joined in this protest of six also mentioned the hypocrisy that American Pen should make an award and condemn the Islamic terrorists in the destruction of this magazine when ... and by so doing ignoring that the American foreign policy does far worse and destroys cultures and destroys the lives of people daily with bombings and by waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq and so on. This is ... reminded me of the ... of what we call the moral equivalence argument during the cold war when people support ... wouldn’t criticise the Soviet Union ... some writers would not criticise the Soviet Union because America was just as bad. So I think these writers are saying that American Pen somehow stood in place of or represented American culture and it was hypocritical of Pen America to condemn Islamic terrorists when in fact American soldiers were doing far worse. I’m just going through here the sorts of attacks.
Again the writers all stressed that in fact the Muslims in France are not well treated and that they are a small minority but of course as I introduced those statistics, it’s not a small religion by any means and its dangerous terrorist sections are ... and expressions of Islam are of course very powerful. And increasingly powerful. There were criticisms of the quality of the work which seems to be irrelevant to a degree ... well irrelevant. Whether their cartoons could be called hate speech and whether we should even consider the banning of hate speech is of course a discussion that’s going on in Australia at present with racial vilification laws.
There’s my own ... having known authors all my li ... writers all my life as many .. some of you may ... are authors ... some of you are authors and some of you are readers and have known authors all your life, there’s also an element of what I feel is perver ... is right of perversity in the six writers who didn’t want to be signing the petition. There are always writers who won’t sign the petition because of the wording or because it has a type ... it has a grammatical error in it or because of some stran ... and again because of some political subtext which they detect in it. And they express their superiori ... superior insights into the nature of the world by withholding what should be in .. I would argue in this case a very straightforward honouring of a courageous if sometimes stupid magazine. And the right to do ... for it to exist in that great tradition, to be as irreverent as it wants to be should be ... and the fact that they gave their lives for this should be honoured or by all writers everywhere.
So I’m pretty much finishing up here, the ... I just wanted to quote another interesting footnote. This is by ... this happened ... an academic, Timothy Garton Ash, who has a freedom ... a think-tank in freedom at Cambridge University and I just wanted to read out what Timothy Garton Ash has to say and what he did. He points out that the Italian mafia also uses this ... and many other ... and some governments ... the execution of journalists and writers is going on throughout the world and the mafia use it, drug cartels in Mexico use it, journalists who try to expose corruption and expose some of the horrors of the drug cartels have been murdered. Garton Ash ... Timothy Garton Ash says we must be concerned about the underlying religious and political ideology but what changes everything is the use of violence to impose your taboos. If extreme Islamic views were advanced by entirely peaceful means there would still be an issue but it would not be this issue. If Buddhists, nationals or the mafia killed people or credibly threatened to kill them simply to stop the expression of certain views of tastes that is the assassin’s veto. Working out how to defeat the assassin’s veto is one of the great challenges of our time. Among the many questions that arise is whether or not to republish images at which fanatics have chosen to take such violent offence that they murder those who made these and republished these. Was there an editor in the west who did not agonise over the republication question in the hours and days after the question, that was whether they should republish the cover say of the ... some of the covers? The New York Times reported that its executive editor spent ... that’s Dean Barkett ... spent half my day, he said, doing so and changed his mind twice. The Guardian in London in an intense debate rolled through all Thursday in the week that followed the record of who did and who did not publish covers ... the covers that inflamed the terrorists became a major news story in itself.
Timothy Garton Ash goes on to say I became closely involved in this debate because on the morning of the attack I wrote an appeal for a week of solidarity in which a broad range of European newspapers and broadcasters and bloggers and American newspapers and bloggers would republish carefully selected cartoon covers from Charlie Hebdo, by no means just those of Mohammed with a commentary explaining why they were doing it. And I suggested that readers and viewers should be warned in advance the cartoons would be shown but the images should not be pixelated or redacted. Ash says I gave two main reasons for this, to show that violent intimidation of free expression would not work and to enable readers to make up their own minds. The criterion of newsworthiness was clearly met, there was an overwhelming public interest in readers, viewers and internet users having the relevant information and the only way you can reach a proper judgement on the very particular no holds barred French genre of caricature practised by Charlie Hebdo is to look at a representative sample of those cartoons. Ash says my appeal was published in 10 papers and discussed in many others and he ... there was an article in The New York Review of Books which goes on to analyse the responses of the various magazines.
The gala ... the event when the awards were made was at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and had to be heavily surrounded ... was surrounded by heavily armed and ... police. There was a massive security presence because of ... because of the nature of the awards. Jesse Kornbluth, a journalist with the London Observer, wrote this as she left the award ceremony and she says passing men from the antiterrorist unit, men with dogs, men in thick vests, I paused to thank them and so did other authors. And as I walked home on a peaceful night under a big moon I had what felt like clarity, the issue, it wasn’t complicated, the award was for courage, not content, the freedom to ride is absolute and the I wondered what it will come to mean to say as I did, I’m with Charlie. The arts now face a world ... and now I am speaking ... the arts now face a world where there will be as Salman Rushdie has said the need ... experience the need to be protected by armed police fairly constantly and in different places all the time. There’ve already been other magazine offices burned down in Europe be ... for publishing the cartoons from Charlie Hebdo.
And the paradox of our times is that the arts now face a world where we will have to be protected by armed police fairly constantly and in all sorts of gatherings such as this one. It’s a strange reversal from the time when the arts was persecuted and arrested and the police were seen as the enemy, and jailed by the authorities and censored. We are now under the protection of the law and under ... and will need the protection of ASIO. Writers and the arts and journalists are now on the frontline of terrorism as much as if they were in Baghdad or in Afghanistan. Thank you.
Angelo Loukakis: Well thank you very much for that most stimulating and apposite set of remarks, Frank, they were I’m sure well received and well understood, we are living in a different time. I’m afraid we’ve run out of time for questions but there is a book signing, the books are available downstairs on a 10% discount and I’m sure the author will answer or at least respond or attempt to respond to some of your provocations, challenges and questions when you take your book to him to sign. How does that sound? Is that alright?
Frank Moorhouse: Yes, I do apologise for going over time but I think that the issue demanded it.
Angelo Loukakis: Has to be said.