Book reviews

Groundswell: The Rise of the Greens, Amanda Lohrey. Quarterly Essay edited by Peter Craven, Black Inc., 2002. isbn 1 86395 227 6, rrp $11.95.

As a sometime lecturer in political science at the University of Tasmania, Amanda Lohrey has been close to the furnace in which the Australian Greens Party was forged. Groundswell: The Rise of the Greens is eighth in Peter Craven’s remarkable Quarterly Essay series: in it Lohrey charts the party’s history and describes its constituency. From her analysis, it is clear that efforts to label the Greens’ rise
as being nothing more than a function of the Democrats’ decline or a simple defection of Labor’s disenchanted Left are wrong-headed. Lohrey sees the Greens’ constituency as a new one, based ‘on a new paradigm or grand narrative of what politics is about, i.e. the “ecological” ’. That is not to say that
ex-Labor or Democrat or even Liberal voters have not felt disenfranchised by their old party loyalties and resorted to the Greens. But Lohrey makes crucial distinctions that enhance understanding of the Greens phenomenon, not just in Australia but worldwide. A Green vote can no longer be seen as soft‚ single-issue‚ or volatile. She also points out that as the Greens become more successful, the rhetoric against them will become more hectic in proportion to their perceived threat to established powers. The warning signs to Labor in particular are clear: John Button’s contribution to the series (Issue 6 Beyond Belief: What Future for Labor?) becomes even more interesting when read in conjunction with Lohrey’s.   

Juliette Hughes

The Tournament, John Clarke. Text
Publishing, 2002. isbn 1 877008 37 0, rrp $28.00

Magritte and Dali are paired in a tennis tournment against Hammett and Chandler. They win, of course, with their capacity to change the game between points, and to play shots which land in a different dimension from the one they began in.

John Clarke carries off well the conceit of a tennis tournament in which the cultural icons of the 19th and 20th centuries are steadily despatched. His humour is not subtle, but it is knockabout and inventive. He
concentrates on what all tennis commentators see as the Heart of the Matter (Greene, incidentally, loses to Kazantzakis in four sets during the first round), the court chat between players and with court officials.

So, Fermi asks for a ruling on ‘whether “on” the line was “in”, in the same sense that “on the line” was “in the line”.’

‘If you have a ball, for instance,’ he said, ‘which is clearly out, and which marks the round outside the line, but which brings up dust, having struck the outer extremity of the line with its inner extremity, can it not be said that dust is the criterion, rather than the inness or the outness? I think we should be clear about these things.’

Raymond Chandler is more given to soliloquy after his loss to Rodo, ‘I lost a game and got something wet from the court-side fridge. I tried to sip it but I wasn’t fooling anyone. The place was a mess.

Someone could clean up later. Right now I had to think. I went out again and bent a couple at the guy up the other end. A dame behind me yelled, “Out.” She was right. It was that sort of a day.’
It beats watching tennis on the box. And best of all, the cultural anti-heroes lose big time.          

Andrew Hamilton

The Writer and the World: Essays, V.S. Naipaul. Picador, 2002. isbn 0 330 41290 6, rrp $30.00

Naipaul’s essays, written between 1960 and 1990, bring alive half-remembered events and half-familiar people. People as diverse as Mailer, Jagan, Duvalier and Malcolm X are depicted by a writer with an eye for the telling detail and the exact phrase.

We read a novelist’s critical essays less for the world that his eye sees than for the gaze which he directs on it. Naipaul’s perspective is distinctive. He distrusts passion and rhetoric in political life, seeing in them the destruction of the small orders that guarantee peace and tranquillity. In that sense he is conservative.

To maintain that perspective, you need to distance yourself a little from the lives of people who are the cause of passions.

Naipaul’s detachment is delicate: he preserves distance while offering immediacy in his observation of the relationships and habits that form the surface texture of life.  The inner struggles, the vulnerability and the injustices of those whose inner life he portrays lie under the page. These are the aspects of humanity that might arouse vicarious passions.          


Wild Politics, Susan Hawthorne. Spinifex, 2002. isbn 1 8766756 24 1, rrp $29.95

Wild is for the surprising, for the card that confounds those who think only in suits. In Susan Hawthorne’s broad-ranging exploration of the challenges facing us today, the opposite of wild is narrow, controlled, separate, abstract and universal. When the universal and separate rules the local and connected, people are subordinated to profits.

Hawthorne celebrates the local in the image of biodiversity. Biodiversity is vulnerable both to the planning that exalts economy of scale, and to a culture dominated by consumer choice. To ensure biodiversity, you need to privilege the networks of local relationships over the exploitation of resources.

I found her evocation of political priorities appealing and surprisingly familiar. Underlying her vision is a philosophy that sees the world not in instrumental terms but as a whole formed by a complex set of interrelationships. Her treatment left me with one question. If you are to privilege the local and particular as a centre of value, do you not need also to defend the universal? Certainly, the preciousness of each human being can be defended only by laws and attitudes that apply to all human beings.              




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