J.M. Coetzee is Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide. He is the author of sixteen works of fiction, as well as many works of criticism and translation. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003. (January 2017)
The nineteenth century was the heyday of the Great Writer. In our times the concept of greatness has fallen under suspicion, especially when attached to whiteness and maleness, and Great Writers courses have largely been retired from the college curriculum. But to call Patrick White a Great Writer—specifically a Great Writer in the Romantic mold—seems right, if only because he had the typically great-writerly sense of being marked out from birth for an uncommon destiny and granted a talent—not necessarily a welcome one—that it is death to hide, that talent consisting in the power to see, intermittently, flashes of the truth behind appearances.
As a writer, Gerald Murnane is a radical idealist. His fictional personages or “image-persons” (characters is a term he does not use) have their existence in a world much like the world of myth, purer, simpler, and more real than the world from which they take their origin. For readers who, despite Murnane’s best efforts, cannot tell the difference between image-persons and figments of the human imagination, it may be best to treat Murnane’s theorizing—which extends into the very texture of his fiction—as no more than an elaborate way of warning us not to identify the storytelling I with the man Gerald Murnane, and therefore not to read his books as autobiographical records, accountable to the same standard of truth as history is. The I who tells the story will be no less a constructed figure than the actors in it.
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translated from the German by Stanley Corngold
Two energies go into the making of Werther: the confessional, which gives the book its tragic emotional force, and the political. Passionate and idealistic, Werther is representative of the best of a new generation of Germans sensitive to the stirrings of history, impatient to see the renewal of a torpid social order. An unhappy love affair may precipitate his suicide, but the deeper cause is the failure of German society to offer young people like him anything but what Goethe would later call “dull, spiritless citizen life.”
What is at stake in the choice for or against Modernism is, in Les Murray’s eyes, not just the survival in Australia of simple, humane, communal, old-fashioned country values but, more widely, the survival worldwide of a way of life thousands of years old. Murray’s conservatism is defined by his defense of this traditional way of life.