Friday, 7 May 2010

Prose from Murray

Australians are always agonising about identity - it is a perennial column filler for editors across the country. It seems to me though that Les Murray settled the question years ago in his essay, 'Flaunt, Scunge and Death-Freckles'. Is it just self-importance that makes us continue with the argument, when his description of our national character really says it all:
'Above all things for many Australians, summer means the beach. It may well be the thing for which we are best known in the wider world: a huge innocuous nation-state mad on swimming, and blessed with great beaches. A sea-bathing rather than a seafaring nation.'
I've been thinking about Murray after reading a recent interview with him, which was accompanied by a heartbreaking photograph of him as a small boy - it shows a skinny little fellow, dressed up in shorts and shirt and tie, his hands clasped behind his back, his socks just starting to slip down towards his ankles, staring guilelessly into the camera. He was bullied at school, as unusual people often are, and the experience forms the backdrop to some of his Subhuman Redneck poems, I believe. He wrote wisely about bullying in an article headed 'Erocide' for the now defunct magazine The Independent Monthly (not to be confused with The Monthly). This is what he said:

'As the late Marxist technique of tapping every focus of oppression or even private misery for its revolutionary potential fades with the sixties generation that carried it, any marginal group which didn't get its movement up and protesting by the 1980s is probably doomed to stay marginal. One such group, almost certainly bigger by far than the gay population and all the sad victims of literal rape and sexual abuse put together, is one whose members remain isolated by shame and self-contempt, and will probably never Come Out and speak with anything like a single voice. These are the folk for whom the sexual revolution remains a chimera, the ones whose sexual morale was destroyed early by rejection, by scorn, by childhood trauma, by fashion, by lack or defection of allies, by image. Not all are unattractive, but all live and act in the believe that they are. They are called wallflowers, ugly, wimps, unstylish, drips, nerds, pathetic, fat, frigid, creepy - the epithets go on and on. All are victims of something we haven't developed a word for yet, but which I've called anti-rape or epar, which is rape spelled backwards. A better term might be formed by analogy with erogenous: erocide. This crime, which appears in no statute books, is definable as the concerted or cumulative sexual destruction of a person. It may be an instinct which humans share with zebras, rabbits and many other species, a drive to sterilise as many potential breeders as possible, especially those idiosyncratic ones through whom the species might undergo change; the whole thing may be counter-evolutionary, designed to preserve the average. In humans, the matter seems always at least partly deliberate, and can be done by either sex to either sex. If triumphant Lawrentian sex, the kind that stares challengingly out of films and glossy magazines all over the Western world, is a nazi - and it is if you think about it, with its tall, beautiful blond idols - then those who have suffered erocide, along with children and the old, are its subhumans. They are the damaged goods of the universal flesh market, unfitted to consume or be consumed, but constrained to pay lip service and pretend.
Children are perhaps second only to the media in the enthusiastic practice of the anti-rape I'm talking about. In schools, it is usually called bullying or harassment and all children who enter school are tested to see if it works on them. If it does, they will cop it unremittingly, and the psychological scarring may persist lifelong. If anything, the taunts and jeering are less terrible than the abandonment that goes with them, the moral cowardice of fellow kids who don't jeer themeselves but don't speak out against it either, or afford the tormented one support for fear of becoming victims themselves. If the jeering or the avoidance come from the opposite sex, the results are apt to be severe and lasting. Those who fight back by compulsive promiscuity are no less victims than the anorexics or those who quietly shrivel into lifelong inner misery. We do little, as a society, to protect our children against such damage. A few well-publicised lawsuits by parents, not only aganst schools but also against the parents of tormentors, might be salutary. In a society which values sexual love so highly, too, it might seem odd if erocide, once defined, were not quickly included among crimes against the person. That may be a fair way off, though. Smaller steps may be taken in the interim, perhaps. At the now-defunct Crows Nest boys' high school, a perceptive deputy headmaster in the 1970s named Steve Murtough banned name-calling on pain of instant suspension, and it had good results. In hell, even a drop of water, on the tongue or the flames, has immense value, perhaps especially if the culture of hell forbids us to say or recognise that we are indeed there.'


  1. "especially those idiosyncratic ones through whom the species might undergo change"

    That is quite an ambitious prospect - one geek being so strange looking and off the wall that should he breed, he unwittingly starts a new mutational sub-branch of human evolution.

  2. Do you know which Issue of The Independent Monthly that was in? I'm writing a thesis on Murray and try to find the article you mention here, but I'm not having any luck. The whole bullying business at school was pretty intense for Murray - most people usually experience some form of it, but it seems to have really stuck with Murray and effected him deeply.