Monday, 26 March 2007

Cold feet

Northcote Kmart appears not to stock door-snakes.* It does, however, stock stockings, in abundance. Thwarted on the doorsnake front yesterday morning, I dallied amongst the hosiery, and was alarmed to discover that the so-called Footless Tight has edged out the infinitely superior Knee-High Sock. You'd have to live in a world quite bereft of spry young lasses not to have realised that the Footless Tight is the preferred legwear du jour. I see dozens of Footless Tights getting about every day, worn under shorts, mini-skirts, the tail-ends of overhanging cardigans. They enable your typical spry young lass to negotiate that troubling territory between nudity and beclothedness. (This, of course, is one of the long established virtues of semi-opaque lycra.) The trouble is that most Footless Tight wearers have feet. And as the season is upon us when idle minds turn to door-snakes, the Footless Tight wearer's foot is liable to the assaults of Antarctic breezes and miscellaneous chills. The Footless Tight wearer, like any other anthropoid, needs something snug about her ankles and toes, but, as the fashionistas will tell you, the Footless Tight can only be worn with thongs, or possibly sandals, or, at the very most, some kind of slip-on job vaguely resembling a shoe but providing minimal insulation. Mark my words, fashion-followers, there'll be a frosty-ankle pandemic within the week, or my name's not Elspeth McHarlot.

Knee-High Socks, on the other hand, are wonderful. They are stylish, sanitary and snug. The last (and only) conversation I had with Germaine Greer devolved around our shared affection for the aforenamed sock. Germaine Greer may not actually remember this conversation, but it occurred. My sister has photographic evidence. All in all, a ringing endorsement. Kmart may have surrendered to the Footless Tight imperative, but that doesn't mean that we must too. I am ordering in a bale of nylon, and will start knitting forthwith.**

* I will make my own, dammit. Just call me Lexicon "Low-Tech Heating Solutions" Harlot.
** After I have made my door-snake.

52 comments:

Karen said...

I have quite a collection of door snakes. I think they were mostly acquired from school fetes, so that's probably your best bet (if you choose not to make it). Mind you, school fetes seems to have deteriorated markedly lately. The last one I went to had Krispy Kreme donuts instead of homemade cupcakes, which is thoroughly unacceptable in my book. The other place would be the two-dollar shops. Has "Hot Dollar" spread down there yet? If so, you'll be able to shop for door snakes and admire their collection of neon-lit religious art at the same time. I'm sure I spied some door snakes in The Reject Shop a few months ago, when I also found (Oh frabulous day!) punch balloons.

I'm also a big fan of knee-high stockings, am delighted to hear that Germaine Greer concurs and am mightily impressed that you managed to accost her on the subject. My sister and I had many conversations on the absurdity of footless tights, but then she bought a very nice dress and some footless tights were thrown in for free and the dress rides up when you sit down, so the footless tights proved to be rather useful. I assume that this is how they reel in otherwise sensible young women. I also imagine that it's rather similar to opaque tights- although the cut-off would diminish the effect.

I also like those footlet thingies, but it's so hard to find ones which don't show over the top of your shoe. I especially like ribbed stockings, but I've been branching out into other patterns and find I like honeycomb very much too.

The most absurb fashion trend is boots over jeans, but that seems to have stopped now.

(Apologies for a very long comment, but I dwell on these matters often, I'm afraid).

alexis said...

I didn't accost Germaine Greer on the knee-high sock; she accosted me! Or rather, I went up to her, declared my undying admiration, and she said "I'm very impressed to see someone wearing knee-high socks at a formal event. I thought I was the only one." Whereupon I almost lost control of my senses.

I'm going to make my own doorsnake. I've decided. I can fill it with lentils. (Or perhaps rice would be cheaper.)

TimT said...

Zounds! The door-snake-less stores should just stock hemlock and be done with it! The utter, utter cads!

alexis said...

Indeed, Tim. They are cads and bounders. First they refuse to stock doorsnakes, next they refuse to stock my preferred hosiery. We draught-dodgers must make do without their assistance.

wool spaniel said...

Lexicon,

May I point out for your esteemed readers that photographic evidence of the Prof Greer - Dr Harlot Sock Conversation of 4 November 2005 even occupies a tiny number of pixels in a February entry in the Blog d'Harlot. (Now everyone can play Where's Wally.)

Meanwhile, on the topic of low-tech heating solutions, I can also testify to the warming properties of a cuddly kitten or two curled purring on one's lap.

Love,

Wool.

alexis said...

I had to think for a moment there, WS, but you're right, there IS a photo of Germs and me up there for the 13th February. You need to look VERY carefully to see it, though.

I wouldn't say no to a furry beast or two, but Kmart doesn't seem to stock them either. Harrumph.

Love,
lexi

TimT said...

FACT: My Great-Grandfather, Sir Milquist Pumblechook-Train, was once attacked by a vicious door-snake. It had been removed from its native Chatswood environment, and was driven wild with fear and confusion. It bit my GG several times, injecting him with the deadliest poison unknown to man - door-snake venom.

Ravaged by fever, GG lay in a cold-sweat on his bed for many days, until he was restored to life and vigour with many doses of anti-venene mixed with lemonade and fed on rusks of Arnotts Biscuits.

And then there was the time he was half-swallowed by a beanbag, and barely lived to tell the tale. A good thing he did, or we would never know of these dangers today. But that is another story to be told another time. The end.

alexis said...

Maybe I should just get a door-legless-lizard then? They're famously less irascible than the doorsnake. I've been having terrible trouble lately with an anthropophagous oven mit.

Karen said...

Alexis,

Now I'm envious (as opposed to merely impressed). I must trawl through your February archives and view such illustrious hosiery.

If you've still got them you could have a "Meeting with Germaine Greer" memorial door snake.

wool spaniel said...

timt, this is rather off track, but did you know that recently a Real Live Wallaby was found hopping around Of Its Own Free Will near the big Chatswood Westfield Temple to Capitalism?

For those not familiar with Sydney suburbia, I am not sure how to express just how truly amazing it is that a living creature other than a rat, indian mynah, homo sapiens, cockroach, ant or pigeon should be found in such an environment.

alexis said...

K, the photo on my blog is a photo of my bookshelf, on which is a framed series of three photos, one of which depicts the heads of GG and myself. It is not clear from the photo that we are discussing knee high socks, but we were. I expect I still do have the socks in question, but given current shortages, I can't really afford to surrender them to the door snake making project.

Karen said...

You had the graduation ceremony with GG! The envy just spirals on! Most of the people at mine were graduating in International Studies and IT (I think) and the speaker congratulated them on studying something relevant to the modern world, as opposed to "traditional" subjects like English and History and Philosophy. What I would have given for Germaine instead! Of course I would have graduated absentia, if not for parental needs.

TimT said...

A door-legless-lizard sounds like a good idea, but be wary of the Commode Dragon: my reverend GG once had a run in with one of those.

emmy said...

Germaine lives with some snakes. The door variety can be got from 2 buck shoppes.

alexis said...

It was brill having Germaine, but only because she was Germaine. Appearances implied that she viewed the occasion with about as much regard as she in turn viewed Steve Irwin. She delivered what seemed to be an extemporaneous ramble, in which she reassured us that in our meanderings through the dark satanic mills of the modern call centre (etc) we'd be spiritually sustained by the memories of our time in the Arts Faculty. Wasn't sure if this was a sardonic comment on the modern job market or unforgiveably patronising. But still, Germaine Greer! she who can do no wrong even when she's doing stupendously wrong!

alexis said...

What you saying, Emmy? Surely you're not suggesting that GG is mad as a ...

alexis said...

Wool Spaniel, that is WAY COOL about the wabbally. The triumph of marsupial over marketplace.

Karen said...

Really? I can remember sections of her address being published in the papers at the time and I rather liked it, as a somewhat sarcastic defence of the intrinsic value of being an educated person, but then past experience shows that I am very bad at noticing when I'm being patronised.

I wish there was a wallaby at Miranda Fair. There used to be some beautiful old trees where much of the newer part is. It was a horrible day when they were removed- and they did it almost in the dead of night, before any one could protest.

alexis said...

Yeah, really. Prone as I am to arrant fictionalising, this is how it was. She was unrehearsed, brief, discernably patronising, but thoroughly Germaine. As I type, I spy two of her books on the facing shelf: one about menopause (which she calls the climacteric) and the other about the eunuch lady. And she wears knee high socks.

TimT said...

"The devil, he came in the dead of night..."

Ah, tree assassination. Might I take the opportunity to point out the excellent article by Frank Devine, 'The Trees That Ate Sydney'. I don't know how he will be received here; it's the habit on some political blogs to occasionally single out a Frank Devine article for harsh criticism, creating the false impression that he's some kind of extremist. He's not - he's one of the best writers journalism has, a thoughtful writer of the conservative persuasion.

"According to Councillor Jilly Gibson, of North Sydney, conflict over trees and views is turning nasty. Not occasionally, but constantly, people plant large trees specifically to block the views of neighbours with whom they are feuding. Sometimes the threat of plantings is used as blackmail to force favours or concessions. Though councils impose fines of hundreds of dollars for removing a tree without a permit, arboricide is now common in the leafy suburbs...

Compounding the various problems of having too many trees and far too many fanatic tree-worshippers is a chauvinism that has jampacked Sydney with native eucalypts and declared a fatwa on alien species...

Other arguments against forcing eucalypts into the city are cultural and aesthetic. Dragging them from their wide open spaces into captivity is akin to the American scandal of driving Comanches and other Plains Indians on to reservations."

alexis said...

As a general principle, Frank Devine is persona non grata round these parts, not least for the gratuitous act of paternity that produced Miranda (who is either a few feathers short of a peacock's tail or the best satirist since A. Pope). That said, the subject of arboreal obstruction is a subject dear to my parents' hearts, and I won't say any more here, lest I hamper their activism on behalf of the Trees (Disputes Between Neighbours) Bill.

JahTeh said...

Now I know I'm old, we called them draught sausages and trundled down to the local wood mill for sawdust to fill them. I strongly advise against lentils or rice, little animals get in and eat their way out, weevils in particular.

As for GG, I loved her the moment she said it was okay for old ladies to look at young men, as long as we don't touch. I've been looking ever since.

alexis said...

"Draught sausages"! Maybe it's a regional thang, rather than generational. I'm sure they're called door snakes in Sydney, whence I hail. Certainly I've never heard of a draught sausage. (But the phrase is exceedingly cute, and deserves wide circulation.)

You make an excellent point about the little creatures. Thank you. Normally I'm v. alert to the threat of weevils, but for some reason - the heady excitement of a new draught sausage, perhaps - I didn't think of 'em. If I can't find sawdust ... but surely there'll be sawdust somewhere.

By the way, I noticed Copper Witch on my friend Adrian Phoon's blogroll. He's one of the loveliest people I know, so nice to suppose you're friends.

Karen said...

Although a dyed-in-the-wool member of the choir, I am not averse to a conservative writer of the thoughtful persuasion, Timt (and I actually went to the same school as Miranda, Alexis, and that place would send anyone slightly mad). Indeed, sometimes I even find my old lefty heart despairing that there isn't more quality conservative writing with which one might grapple.

I have seen articles in the paper about this practice of planting fast-growing trees (mostly connifer-type things) to take revenge on neighbours. I wouldn't argue that this is a churlish and nasty thing to do. I do note, however, that while Devine criticises one sort of fetish (of trees), he freely indulges in another sort of fetish (of water). Much of Sydney seems to operate on the principle that any sort of water, no matter how degraded, is a unfettered boon. About a 15 minute drive from my house, a line of long-established trees in front of a brand, spanking new block of flats have been poisoned, all for the sake of a water view. The motivation of the perpetrators was nothing but pure, unadulterated greed- they wanted the $2 million dollar view instead of the $1 million dollar view. Earlier, I was talking about a group of well-established trees (oak, if I remember rightly, so they would have pleased Frank's aesthetic sense) on a block of public land in an outer suburb of Sydney. The only thing they were blocking was a food court.

With handsome, sophisticated and obligingly deciduous immigrants such as London plane trees, jacarandas and golden robinias available to adorn our streets, it is cruel and perverse to press eucalypts into labour for which they are ill suited.

I love plane trees as much as Frank apparently does, but I don't think the asthmatics would agree.

Why can't we have architecture which is sensitive to the Australian environment and Australian vegetation?

the number of ideologues and witches who consequently make it to powerful office

This is only one of a number of curiously revealing expressions. It certainly got me wondering, as someone who has been called a witch more than once, in both jest and anger. Are these people who vex Frank so ideologues *and* witches or is a witch an entirely separate thing from an ideologue, but still aligned with the ideologues, like the elves and the fairies perhaps? I also wondered if Frank had my favourite witch in mind.

Karen said...

I'm sorry that was so long, Alexis, but I read the whole thing and that was only a fraction of what I could have said.

torshy said...

Just back to socks, tights and other fashion-related things for a minute I need to tell you all that not only is the footless-tight nowhere to be seen in the north of Germany, but knee-high socks are everywhere, it being a kind of seasonal in-between time up here. Unfortunately, I also have to say that boots have remained firmly over jeans for the last two winters and I have no doubt they will continue to do so next winter. And possibly also for the three weeks fo summer.

Also legwarmers are totally in too, although mostly with surfie/skatie chicks. I have to admit, wearing a skirt and only thin opaque stockings on a recently blustery day I could see the attraction...

Can you tell I'm at work?

TimT said...

But Karen, what standards should a quality conservative writer fit to? You seem to be taking issue with Devine's arguments, which is exactly what happens on political blogs on the rare occasions when he is discussed: they disagree with his political position, and therefore the assumption seems to follow that he is a bad writer.

I am saying he is a good writer because he is eloquent, he is original (it's rare you'd see trees given such space in a widespread Australian publication with a cultural and literary focus - this essay was first published in Quadrant), he is witty, and he presents his case well: he doesn't bully you with rhetoric. I also find him to be a genial and good-humoured writer - obviously the off-hand comment about 'witches and ideologues' contradicts this, but off-hand comments of this type are common in the newspaper trade. FD usually appears to avoid statements of this sort.
In other words: writer first, conservative second.

Incidentally, I do agree that the poisoning of trees to facilitate harbour views is ridiculous: in general, it's that kind of petty local politics that really ticks me off.

This is way off topic I know, so I'll try not to say any more on the subject: but since I bought FD up, I felt bound to defend him.

Oh, and presumably FD was traumatised by an evil Russian grandmother in his childhood, or something. Or possibly attacked in the playground with a mortar and pestle. It's hard to tell what motivates some of these statements. Cheers!

Karen said...

Tim,

I could jump in on what I don't like about Devine's writing style (which is certainly far more sophisticated than his daughter's), but we are way off topic here and Alexis may want her blog back! I think that the writing style is intimately tied to the way it is trying to manipulate the reader towards a particular conclusion, so it is not inappropriate to focus on that. And, given my background, I would, wouldn't I?

alexis said...

Hanna: hoorah for Tschermany and its sockery. What's the German for "leg-warmer"?

Everyone else: I don't mind in the least if you go off topic, so long as noone expects me to depart from the dizzying intellectual heights of knee-high socks and talk about the ethics and aesthetics of Francis de Vino.

TimT said...

Oh, go on. Sock it to him.

Do you know, I googled 'Draught sausage', and came up with a link on the BBC site that referred to a 'Draught sausage-dog'!

alexis said...

That complicates matters. A draught sausage dog door snake. Crossing the transgenic barrier with a vengeance.

Karen said...

Opening the door to rambling is a very dangerous thing, Alexis!

I will sock it to dear old FD and you can disassemble my socking, Tim, but it's probably best if I do that when I'm not hungover anymore! So a raincheck on the literary executions please.

Karen said...

Since I’m feeling a little better now I will open the FD salvo over lunch.

I will grant you that FD is a better writer than the vast majority of his conservative peers. However, as I have already asserted, the same rhetorical manoeuvres can still be found in FD’s work, albeit deployed in a more subtle way. The starkest contrast is probably with his daughter, whose “This is all commonsense” flow is inevitably interrupted by what I like to call “the MD turn”: a logical jump so stark and so thoroughly unsupported by what has preceded it that only the most undemanding of readers would be prepared to follow her.

I was a little flippant earlier about the “ideologues and witches” line, but, based on the evidence of this piece (and I wholeheartedly admit that I am not an avid reader of FD nor am I likely to become one), this is characteristic and not simply a momentary aberration. Other examples include:

in a *Saudi Arabian* display of wasteful extravagance, developers in an inner suburb were recently forced by the local council to spend $150,000 relocating a fig

and


Dragging them from their wide open spaces into captivity is akin to the American scandal of driving Comanches and other Plains Indians on to reservations.


Of course these are analogies, but the sheer inappropriateness of the comparisons flattens everything together. I’m reading an article about trees and suddenly I get a little snapshot of FD’s take on Saudi Arabia or FD’s take on (no doubt older, lefty) women who don’t know their place and get themselves onto local councils. And that’s what he’s doing with the argument here too- he’s flattening everything together, so that you can’t accept one proposition and reject another or, god forbid, even contemplate judging each case on its individual merits, because it’s all part of this one organic world view. When I was reading it, I was constantly thinking “Yes, but one of these things is not like the other”. More subtly, there’s the almost subliminal suggestion throughout the piece that these trees are part of some sort of contemporary equivalent of the red peril:

Carr's vision of a city in a forest may be utopian rather than crackpot, but it shouldn't be allowed just to *creep up* on people.

Arboreal hubris and the passion of authoritarian councils for appearing trendy

It is a short, dead-end street down the centre of which *marches a line* of immense camphor laurels.

These are militarised trees, no less. The militarisation of the trees is especially interesting alongside the elision we have in the second example between being “authoritarian” and being “trendy”. It’s the same old battle between “us” and “them” beloved of right-wing hacks everywhere. And you have to line up behind a side and stick to that side, hence that great flattening together. Consistency doesn’t matter so much as making sure that the other side doesn’t win the point.

Another point I wanted to raise is the difference between “conservative” and “right wing”, because they’re not the same thing and I think we run them together too easily. To me a conservative writer, much as I may disagree with her, still has some sort of ethical framework. What distinguishes most right-wing commentators, as far as I can see, is the infinite flexibility of their ethical frameworks.

That’s enough, isn’t it? Your poor little blog, Alexis!

alexis said...

No, my blog is delighted. What a super piece of analysis: shame it's consigned to such an obscure corner of the www as this.

TimT said...

I'd say the main division in the right-wing today is between conservatives and libertarians. I don't agree with all your analysis - the article is called 'The Trees That Ate Sydney', so of course we're going to get metaphors of the 'trees on the march' sort. It dramatises Devine's arguments, and I find it entertaining.

I don't really think it would be to the point to discuss Devine's arguments one by one, because that would be to ignore the general quality that I find interesting about the article - that it challenges a fairly commonly held view, that cities should have more trees and green spaces. And his arguments here, in my view, are strong - that ever-growing trees can destroy streets, be endless sources of dispute between neighbours, that cities have not traditionally been a place for trees, etc.
In the process, he makes generalisations, true. That's the point of writing an essay, isn't it? To find general connections and to illustrate these with vivid metaphors. All pundits do this.

You say on the one hand that you would like for there to be more quality conservative writers, but this seems to contradict with the way you reject Devine's writing because of his conservative arguments. I'm not sure how a conservative writer could get around this impasse - should he deliberately argue unpersuasively? Or should he claim to be a conservative writer but then go on to offer arguments that agree entirely with the left-wing position?
I'm hesitant in saying this, because I'm not sure whether you did intend to put your case this way: it just seems that way to me. If so, it's partly my fault in describing Devine as a 'conservative' in the first place.

TimT said...

On second thoughts, I should probably have focused more on the individual arguments raised, since I think the last argument I made is a bit personal in tone when I didn't want it to be, and I was rather sloppy with some of the other points that I made.

The definitions, unfortunately, are flying thick and fast ('right-wing', 'conservative', 'libertarian', just to begin with) so I'll quit the floor for now.

alexis said...

Whaddayamean, "quit the floor"? You and Karen ARE the floor.

TimT said...

You mean I've reached rock bottom?

alexis said...

I mean I'm floored.

TimT said...

When it comes to comments, there's no limit to how low you can go.

Anonymous said...

Having just bought a pair of black knee-high gently graduated support hose, fat leg from bike accident amelioration of, I can tell you they are available from your local chemist.

I fear the $32 price tag will leave you swooning on the floor.

- barista

Karen said...

From you, Alexis, that is high praise indeed!

Tim, nothing you said sounds remotely personal or inappropriate to me. You've only critiqued the particular viewpoint you think I have, based on what I've written here and that's not out of court by any means. One of the reasons why I almost never write anything or comment on the internet is because of the discourteous way people can sometimes behave, but I feel very comfortable here. I enjoy a spirited argument!

Perhaps this particular article is not a good "base" text for the larger discussion we're gesturing towards here. And my taste in prose seems to be different to yours and we're swooping around that too. Once upon a time the tories used to write like this. It's not everyone's cup of tea, granted, but it's my cup of tea! I love fine writing almost to the point of purple prose. But this is veering away from the subject at hand- the contemporary opinion piece.

In the process, he makes generalisations, true. That's the point of writing an essay, isn't it? To find general connections and to illustrate these with vivid metaphors. All pundits do this.

Well, connections certainly, but not at the expense of losing nuance! I suppose I'm talking about one of the things I especially don't like about what passes for public debate at the moment- the way everything has to be simplified and "blunted". It's as if no one has any time anymore to look at each case individually and actually go through the mental process of weighing up the ethics and figuring out what would be the right thing to do and not simply the thing that would really stick it up the opposition. Maybe what I'm saying is that I hate politics!
Or perhaps the idea of the "pundit" is what I don't like- the talking head expert on everything. You can see it in the FD piece- this kind of persona which is being built up of this older, sophisticated man of the world who has lived in or been to all these places and you can sit here and imbibe the wisdom. It's not as crude as talkback radio with its ready-made views, but it's doing a similar thing more subtly and for a slightly different audience (and I won't argue with you if you say that there are left-wing commentators who do the same thing).

the way you reject Devine's writing because of his conservative arguments. I'm not sure how a conservative writer could get around this impasse - should he deliberately argue unpersuasively? Or should he claim to be a conservative writer but then go on to offer arguments that agree entirely with the left-wing position?

No, not unpersuasively, but most pundits make you feel like you're being beaten over the head! Surely it is possible to present an opinion in such a way that the listener or reader feels that she has the opportunity to engage in a (silent, at any rate) debate. But most opinion writing now seems to be about ending the conversation.

And I don't want everyone to agree with me because then I couldn't get angry or have arguments and I love being angry and having arguments! And here's a delicious irony for you- I had sewerage washing up on my lawn today because there was a blocked pipe due to... tree roots! Karma? FD's magic powers or yours? Who can say?

God, I've got to do something about my sleep patterns! FD and opinion pieces at this time!

TimT said...

On the other hand, writers should be consistent and persistent, no? They should attempt to apply their general idea to different examples and different circumstances, even if their argument ends up being radically different from the commonly-accepted view. Many writers have been noted for their stubborness, rudeness, or worse. (Dr Johnson's fondness for calling others 'blockheads' is relatively polite compared to what Edmund Burke did - dashing a knife on the floor of parliament to make a point about the French revolution. PM Robert Walpole remarked that he had forgotten to bring his fork, so that was one up for the Whigs...)

Dialogue, yes - sometimes! But you can hardly respect a writer who gives up his argument at the first sign of a spirited counter-attack from the opposition. Certainly - if I try to persuade others, I *must* accept that I can be persuaded in turn. But I'm not going to turn over my ideas wholesale, nor accept that others should do the same thing!

(For the record, I believe Devine does engage in dialogue in his Quadrant columns, which frequently feature reviews, interviews, and responses to writers he has encountered in print. I've been following them, on and off, for some time, though the number of those essays that I haven't read are much more than the number I have.)

But doesn't this conversation turn on a number of distinctions which are essentially subjective? What I call a 'persuasive' argument you might call 'manipulative'. The definition you make of 'right-wing' writers seems to me to be more than a little idiosyncratic: granted, there are some writers and politicians who will do anything to win a debate for their 'side', but then, they're hardly limited to the right-wing.
I'm not sure, either, how to respond to your response to Devine's metaphors:

Of course these are analogies, but the sheer inappropriateness of the comparisons flattens everything together. I’m reading an article about trees and suddenly I get a little snapshot of FD’s take on Saudi Arabia or FD’s take on (no doubt older, lefty) women who don’t know their place and get themselves onto local councils.

- why are they 'inappropriate'? It's unclear to me - they convey the message well. Are they being censured for not being PC? Well, fair point, but it hardly bears on Devine's argument. And I *still* don't know where Devine mentions these 'older, left' women. Maybe I missed that passage.

True, Devine does make some generalisations about the left, associating it with authoritanarianism. I think he's on to something there, actually. (It's too long a point to be fleshed out here - suffice to say that both the right and left incline from time to time towards authoritarianism for various historical, economic, and philosophical reasons). But there is another of these subjective distinctions: Devine's point is 'unfair', or 'controversial', or 'a good point, well made!' depending on who reads it.

Well, that's my view anyway. I have never read Ruskin, though on a cursory glance he looks jolly good, so I may just pop off and read him now!*

*(Yes, I really speak like that in real life, in between smatterings of 'g'day, mates!' and other true-blueisms)

alexis said...

I have, of course, been following the ebb and flow of prose round these parts with Interest. Rather than weighing into the debate, which I can't do with any gravity until I weigh into a prior debate about the terms we're using ("conservative", for one, which I want to reclaim - on behalf of whom, I'm not sure - from those pernicious rapscallions who have effected more radical change in the past decade and defaced more of our legal and economic and cultural institutions than any prior government, excised more islands, introduced more GSTs, flouted more of the Magna Carta, depleted more 70-year-old public broadcasters, confounded more of church and state, undone more long standing industrial regulations law, etc. As for "liberal", best not to get me started).

So, not weighing into the debate (ahem), and instead talking idly and without much substantiating evidence about the very interesting subject that is you, Tim, I have this to say - and I hope it won't cause offence - yes, this:

You have an eighteenth-century temperament. You really do. You are Augustan gentleman from your periwig to your square-toed shoes. Your affability, and your confidence in the notion that we can deduce from generalities, and your fondness for wit and satire and elegant prose, and your suspicions about the sanity of the left: they are Tobias Smollett or Henry Fielding or Alexander Pope all over. I'd figured this all out for myself a couple of days ago, and just as I was preparing to launch my diagnosis (that you're suffering from galloping Age-of-Exuberance) you go and cite Dr Johnson as if he were your drinking pal down at the Ferret and Trouser-Leg.

TimT said...

Tory, Tory, Tory! I, for one, would fully support a return to the wearing of the periwig in Parliament. Menzies was noteably fond of such institutions (well, not necessarily the periwig one, but other parliamentary institutions). Alas, the only Tory people relate to today is appended with the name 'Spelling', though the accuracy of that concluding title is doubtful.

It is true: the terms 'Conservative' and 'Liberal' are sadly misused and abused nowadays - it is a great pity.

alexis said...

I lack your reactionary spirit, as you know, but would be more than happy to see a periwig renaissance.

Re the current Liberal Party: I argue that it's neither conservative (see all the uprooting mentioned above) nor libertarian (see legislation against gay marriage, prolonged and punitive detention of asylum seekers, introducing anti-terror laws that allow for detention without charge, etc), but fascist. If that word hadn't acquired the odd negative connotation, no doubt they'd proudly embrace it.

TimT said...

I don't really want to defend the Libs, as I'm having too much trouble defending Devine as it is, and I agree that most of those examples that you list are definite policy failures of the Libs (though I would make several qualifications). But fascist? This was said of the Menzies Government too, and 50 years later we're not doing too badly. (Indeed, claims of fascism may help to keep conservative governments in power - it certainly didn't harm Menzies, and hasn't harmed Howard, either). Fascism is noted more for its lack of elections, it's glorification of war, and it's use of violence against its own citizens.

alexis said...

Ach, my rant about the Libs was a complete sideline. I didn't envisage you having to - or wanting to - defend 'em, Timnus. I realise that "fascism" sounds like heady - and therefore empty - rhetoric. But I'm trying to find a word that describes coherently the collective practices and policies of the current Libs, and fascist is the closest I can get. If there is a less inflammatory word for the combination of state-control, limitation of civil liberties, nationalism and anti-socialism, then I'd be happy to use it.

TimT said...

Several epithets have been directed against the Libs that may or may not serve; for instance, 'nanny-staters' (more or Labor Government one, that, but applicable in cases where a state seeks to increase its powers). John Howard himself has been the recipient of 'ratty', 'the rat', 'the cunning little rat', and of course 'John Coward Hunt', 'the rodent' (what do these people have against rats and rodents, anyway? Does it indicate part of his voting demographic?) Ruddock has often been tagged with pulp-fiction titles, ie, 'zombie', 'android', 'vampire'. (I believe that this could also be fairly applied to several members of the Shadow cabinet.) Also, of course, 'poodle' (curiously, the same description has been applied by the Brits to Tony Blair).

The best at inventing, or at least remembering, such descriptions are the far-left, who commonly come up with such vocabulary as 'capitalist swine', 'pigs', 'toe-rag', etcetera. ('Toe-rag', however, was once used by right-wing blogger Tim Blair to label John Pilger, perhaps reflecting the fact that he was a socialist for a year in the 1970s.)

The standard of political labels, I am afraid, is pretty low, and perhaps a good description for the type of government we have at the moment is yet to be invented.

Karen said...

On the other hand, writers should be consistent and persistent, no? They should attempt to apply their general idea to different examples and different circumstances, even if their argument ends up being radically different from the commonly-accepted view.

But does one have to be consciously aware of whether one is being consistent and persistent? I admit to being a very undisciplined sort, but I don’t start out a priori with a particular view and then set out to determine what would accord with that view in each situation. I don’t sit down and think “Now what would be the good left libertarian take on this?”. This, I think, goes back to what I’ve been saying about being more interested in bolstering the “team” one has identified oneself with than in finding the appropriate or ethical solution. I don’t start with a certain view about trees and then find examples to justify my view. I form my view as a result of the experiences I have had of trees and I explain that view by detailing those experiences.
Of course I may notice particular examples or become interested in particular subjects because I’m a certain sort of person with a certain set of life experiences and that can be an overriding structural principle, true enough.

Stubbornness, rudeness or worse can be very enjoyable and sometimes one doesn’t mind the odd knife through the floor if it’s a rhetorically splendid one, but I am yet to find a contemporary conservative writer who can provide me with that kind of masochistic pleasure!

I’m happy to be persuaded and to change my mind if I’ve been presented with a compelling argument. I don’t regard conversation as a competition, so it is no slur on my intellect if I am persuaded. Still, like everyone else, there are things I will not be persuaded about. My opposition to the death penalty and my support for women’s reproductive rights, for example, are thoroughly non-negotiable and I would probably find it difficult to remain civil if someone tried to convince me otherwise.

Perhaps this conversation does turn upon subjective criteria and I’d be the first to admit that I do define some things idiosyncratically. However Alexis says exactly what I was trying to hint at above (I suspect Alexis and I probably come from very similar places, politically speaking). As I indicated above, I won’t argue with you that there are plenty of left-wing commentators who are also eager to win for their “team”. However, I do think that one of the very distinctive features of the present political climate is the extent of polarisation or division in the public sphere and that this is something the present Federal government, following the example of the Republican party in the US, plays to. It is the absolute worst of American politics imported into the Australian context and there is something very crushing about it. I agree completely with Alexis- we don’t have a conservative government. We have a right-wing government which cynically deploys ‘conservative values’ as a trump card in the great game to which our public life has been reduced. I see no moral consistency across the broad spectrum of their policies. If one is a “Realpolitik” sort, then one should admit it and spare me the “moral majority” bullshit!

The division is so bitter- it’s at the point where you often can’t have a discussion with someone who has an opposing view without the whole thing descending into name-calling- and the commentators largely feed that. It was especially acute around the time of the Iraq war. Once the war itself began the letters and opinion pages were full of triumphalist gush about how this was somehow “vindication” for the war supporters over all those who “vilified” them by daring to possess a different view and express it. That’s what their primary concern was- not “freedom” and “democracy”, but vindication. The same thing is happening right this very moment in the wake of David Hicks’ guilty plea. For many supporters of this government and of Howard in particular there is such a strong personal identification with the government and its policies that they seem almost locked into a position, no matter how indefensible it subsequently becomes.

I don’t censure FD’s analogies for not being PC, although I think the hysteria over so-called “political correctness” is absurd. What is so very awful about treating other people with kindness and respect? FD’s analogies are, however, more than simply colourful or entertaining language. I will take the “witch” example, since that’s the one we’re dwelling on. Words mean more than what they most ostensibly denote. Every word (and some words even more than others) has a cultural history behind it and a good writer should be aware of that history. You may contend that this is largely subjective, but, for me, when I see the word “witch” used in a clear reference to persons in decision-making positions (and next to the pejorative “ideologue”, what’s more), it very much evokes a very long tradition of derogating feminists on the grounds of their improper “performance” of femininity. Given that his examples are mostly (in fact, I think it may be entirely) drawn from the inner city, eastern suburbs and lower north shore of Sydney, a Sydney reader could not help but think of a number of women who are prominent in these councils. And if this isn’t the implication, why didn’t he simply write “ideologues” and have done with it?

You authoritarian point- that could go on for a couple of hundred comments, but we should try to have that discussion one day.

I am completely obsessed with Ruskin and it is something of a mission of mine to bring others to the fold. He isn’t an easy writer and he’s quite voluminous, so you have to be careful where you begin. You can’t just read a little Ruskin to really understand him, because everything is so closely related to everything else- and, as a whole, his oeuvre is very tightly bound up with his deeply moving but heart-wrenchingly tragic life. There’s quite a good selection available now (I can’t remember if it’s Penguin or OUP) and the Penguin Unto This Last - which might be the one to interest you- has some of the other important pieces (of course the most famous of all is ‘Nature of Gothic’). As a starting point out of the major works, though, I think I would probably recommend Praeterita, his very partial autobiography (he manages not to mention his marriage at all). It infamously begins “I am, and my father was before me, a violent Tory of the old school; -Walter Scott’s school, that is to say, and Homer’s”.

I also am very fond of that tally-ho, Five Go Mad in Dorset mode of speech. Perhaps a smattering of true-blueisms would be a good substitute for the swear words I find myself uttering so regularly, but, just between you and me, I don’t really want to give up the swearing! One of my close friends specialises in true blue swearing, which is very charming when he does it, but I think I may be too softly spoken to pull it off.

You’re a little hard to get a handle on, Tim, but Alexis’ Augustan gentleman idea allows me to imagine you quite well. Whereas you, Alexis, are pure Bloomsbury, of course!

Is this now the longest comment?
(She asks competitively).

TimT said...

I absolutely, completely and utterly agree with everything you say there, except for the bits that are wrong. Um, I plead fatigue, it being late in the night and late in the week. Politics is so silly, really - almost everybody ends up taking sides and arguing fervently for the virtue of their position, while never stopping to realise that the leaders of political parties are usually ideologues who base their positions on cliches. It's like Dorothy getting to Oz and realising that the mighty Leader she looked up to was really a sad little man with a microphone.

Oh, and I see now the 'witch' comment you were referring to. I'm not sure how I feel about this forensic Freudian-style analysis of unintended meanings; it can be rather too easy to read in whatever one wants into an article/story. But point taken, though.

I'll probably do a link to this post tomorrow, though not as a continuance of the argument, more as a follow up.

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