Wednesday, 24 October 2007

'Windschuttle for Quadrant' posters were nowhere seen in recent weeks but the decision to appoint this unpopular man (and ABC board member) to helm our most contrary public vehicle, must have had its genesis at some point in time. The issue number escapes me but I recall reading this year, or late last, in the pages of the magazine, an opinion to the effect that it was "sad" how the mag had become "proud" of being contrary.

Typical of its ideological bias, The Sydney Morning Herald's story on the appointment is just over 120 words long. Writer Ben Cubby clearly felt it deserved no more than what timorous Japanese reporters gave to the killing, in April, of Nagasaki mayor Itcho Ito.

At The Australian, Bernard Lane gives it a full page, with quotes from resident "luvvy-bashers", that weighs in at about 450 words. In the piece we learn of the mag's circluation: "6000-odd" (Online sources show a figure of 5000.)

The epithet "luvvies" is aimed squarely at "the comfortable left-wing university consensus" its contributors and editors believe has dumbed-down debate in Australia. Well may they complain. In a unit of study completed last semester, our lecturer (Prof Jim Martin) leaned heavily on texts produced in the aftermath of the 'Stolen Generation' report, to teach us about power and its deployment in language.

Prof Martin also used childrens' books, newspaper photos (especially colour ones), 19th century news stories, magazine ads, and a variety of material to make his points. Nevertheless, the reliance on verbal utterances by Aborigines who had been separated from their parents during the 20th century as part of a deliberate government plan, was memorable. Its a kind of paternalism we don't see.

Nevertheless, writers, such as Louis Nowra, now ask for some old-style paternalism to curb abuses perpetrated by Aboriginal men: unemployed, too much time on their hands, paid by the government to do nothing, they prey on kids. Sometimes the children die. Much of this is due to Windschuttle's influence. Like Pauline Hanson, who lifted the lid on the multicultural debate we had to have, and who still makes the headlines even ten years on, Windschuttle can be credited with injecting some much-needed air into a homogeneous concoction.

Most interesting for me is the comment by the incumbent editor, Paddy McGuiness, that the mag was based on "the conservative spirit of Samuel Johnson" who, Lane tells us in an indirect quote by dint of proximity, Paddy dubs "the literary colossus of 18th-century England".

Johnson did, in fact, write pieces against American independence, for example. And he was, it's true, in the pay of the king (to the tune of about 300 pounds per annum, I believe). But what Johnson had that no Quadrant writer I've encountered has, is an inimical and dynamic style that defies reproduction.

Johnson purportedly hated to write the regular articles that appeared with his name, in a variety of journals. He would, we are told, dash off a piece at the very last possible moment, and wherever he happened to be at the time. The result, in The Idler and The Rambler (which signal by their names a kind of casual elitism now absent from public debate), is comment that entertains due to a vibrant, fluid style no amount of rework can equal.

Johnson was a natural. He looks a bit like Windschuttle but our man will never come close to the dazzling prose style Jane Austen (who also hated democracy) loved so much.

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