The cover design for this issue, by Alan McCulloch, depicts a writer and an artist reaching hopefully towards an Olympic torchbearer. Symbols of the Australian Underprivileged Class, impoverished, half-starved, camped on a desert island, they might look half-witted but certainly not downcast in spirit. Up Australia! Long Live the Physical Society! To our many correspondents abroad: ‘With others we did our best to inspire Olympic officialdom with a spot of imaginative drive. Don’t blame us for inadequacies on the literary front.’* To Forster, Faulkner, Aragon, Sholokhov, Laxness, Silone, Kazantzakis, Sartre, Priestley . . . . and Uncle Tom Cobley: ‘You would have been welcome, brothers.’
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Wystan Hugh Auden succeeds C. Day Lewis as Professor of Poetry at Oxford — the first naturalized American to hold the post since it was created in the 18th century.. The tenure is for five years, and the occupier of the Chair (£300 a year) is required to give a public lecture once each term, act as a judge for the Newdigate Prize and the Chancellor’s Essay, award a prize for an English poem on a sacred theme, and make a Creweian oration in Latin every second year.
Dr. Enid Starkie, a Fellow of Somerville. Reader in French Literature, was one of Auden’s chief supporters — opposing Sir Harold Nicolson and the distinguished Shakespearean scholar, G. Wilson Knight. ‘The great trouble with this kind of brouhala,’ she said, ‘is that Oxford is packed with the kind of people I call hedgers and ditchers. They hum and they haw, they hedge and they ditch you — you never know where you’ are.’
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And not only Oxford. Australian Universities, too, have their quota of hedgers and ditchers: you never know where you are with them.
Recently the chairman of the Meanjin Advisory Committee (Professor I. R. Maxwell) submitted a request to the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee for financial assistance to this journal. As Meanjin is a national organ and publishes work by members of all the universities and colleges, it seemed reasonable to ask each institution to contribute £50 or £100 a year toward production costs (which include payments to contributors). Alas, our modest request was ditched by the Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, and vaguely referred to the various universities for consideration.
While we were preparing our ‘case’ for presentation to the Vice-Chancellors, we were surprised to find what a large stake the Australian universities have in Meanjin. The list of academic contributors, since 1940, now totals more than two hundred — many of whom have of course contributed time and time again. Our argument that Meanjin performs a real function in university life as well as in the community at large could thus be fully substantiated. Moreover, it was gratifying to note the degree of support for our ‘case’ received from heads of English departments throughout Australia. One wrote that Meanjin was ‘absolutely indispensable.’ ‘No one will dispute the intrinsic merit of Meanjin,’ another wrote. ‘It is our outstanding literary periodical. In its own field it stands alone. It is a forum for free discussion of values in literature and art. It is the liveliest thing in creative criticism yet turned out in this country. It is sought by high (worth while) centres abroad; and above all it gives outsiders, as well as ourselves, an unmistakable impression of independent thought in Australia.’ Still another: ‘We regard this journal as one of the vital means of communication in Australian literary activities.’ Some supporters pointed to the increasing need for such a periodical, particularly now that more attention is being given to our native literature.** Others also stressed the need for an avenue of publication when the Australian Humanities Research Council is formed.
On the critical side Meanjin has always been a journal of ideas rather than of literature in the narrow sense. The editorial view has been that literature and society cannot be divorced one from the other; that literature is a reflection of and a reflection on contemporary civilization. Writers do not sustain their intellectual life by reading each other’s manuscripts. They and the thinking public need the help of specialists who are something more than specialists — and we suggest that universities benefit at least as much as anyone else from this sort of commerce. We might add here that in a country like Australia a journal such as this is obliged to ‘carry’ a substantial amount of scholarly material, much of it being of high reference value if not of popular interest, because there are simply not enough suitable media to handle the volume of work produced, or capable of being produced. A considerable pattern of cultural activity is centred around this office. Also, help has been given to young writers and students, to scholars from abroad and to Fulbright researchers. The general reader who complains that Meanjin is not ‘popular’ enough might take note of some of these editorial problems.
It is obvious that Meanjin, even in its present form, is now becoming increasingly dependent upon academic contributors, not- only for critical essays and articles, but for imaginative writings. In some ways this is a worrying trend. Certainly the original idea of inviting Meanjin to transfer from Brisbane to Melbourne was to provide a forum for published work by (mainly) members of the Arts Faculty; but it was never intended, by the then Vice-Chancellor (Sir John Medley), and least of all by the editor, to make Meanjin into a predominately academic journal: a fate, surely, worse than death. The intention was to build up a broadly-based magazine of literature and ideas which would help counter the diversity of special interests — or more accurately, over-specialization: a cancer eating at the heart of modern ‘education.’ Useful ideas come from many quarters, and the more quarters the better; but there was (and still is) need for a forum for all those ideas, and a criticism of those ideas, which they might not get in their own quarters. It was felt that we needed to get the specialists together, and to enable them to communicate with the general reading public: readers who are themselves non-specialists, but reasonably well-informed and interested in cultural activities here and abroad. Thus literary men would be able to profit from discussions on broad literary issues that would include contributions from specialists in other fields, such as history, philosophy, political science, fine arts, psychology, anthropology — in short, the Humanities. Here, it was felt, might be the animating principle of an alive critical review, the means of securing something like the coherence and drive of a ‘partisan’ review; an effort in general to promote more community of interest, and in particular to bring to bear on literary interests all the relevant resources of contemporary thought and knowledge. That at least was the general idea. ‘
The trouble was, we quickly found, that at that time not enough academics were even remotely interested in communicating with a non-specialist audience.Yet over the years the trend toward ‘institutionalism’ has gradually increased. Inevitably so, perhaps, as academic advancement began to depend to a greater degree upon published writings; and as the number of nonacademic writers began, to diminish. And here might be the crux of our present problem. With two or three exceptions, the output by the older writers has almost ceased. In the main, a group of middle-aged writers is holding the fort. Few younger writers are coming forward — not in any really significant respect. In the past, with Australian academics notoriously shy of writing for publication, the main contribution to Australian literature, and to literature in Australia, has been made by writers who were not working in academic institutions. The trend is changing. Today non-academic workers, especially in the field of literary criticism, may be counted on the fingers of one hand. Conversely, literary critics who are members of university staffs seem to be losing their traditional (let us say) inhibitions, and are actually putting pen to paper.
In general, this activity is to be applauded. But should we not also feel a twinge of apprehension? Many academics known to me — and I refer particularly to Arts staff — seem long ago to have lost contact with the living literature of their day. Too many of them resemble ‘diligent coral insects’ rather than scholars with adventurous and constructive minds. They have often taken away from humane studies the very life and humanity they were supposed to foster.
Or to quote V. S. Pritchett and to change the simile: ‘The bother is that university criticism tends to be written for other university critics and that a good deal of it amounts to exchange of laundry . . . The “free” critic is aware that the academics regard him as a reckless literary journalist . . . or as a useful intermediary or entrepreneur who cannot be taken seriously by the exacting, the sensitive or the scholar. In his turn the academic critic is aware that he is often regarded as the clothes moth of literature.’ An academic friend recently explained to us that the kind of thing his staff were likely to write would be unsuitable for Meanjin: too specialized. By and large we could only agree. But when he added: ‘You see, I can’t imagine that So-and-so could ever bring himself to write a colourful phrase,’ our editorial eyebrows rose. It’s really too bad about So-and-so; he’ll doubtless ‘exchange’ an odd item of academic laundry and eventually sit in a Chair. But from Sainte-Beuve to Edmund Wilson, significant critics have not been too fastidious to write an ‘ occasional ‘colourful phrase.’ ‘Quick reaction, keen sensitiveness, gusto, and brilliance of style,’ says Henri Peyre, ‘are not necessarily incompatible with the academic virtues of balanced judgment, fairness and solidity.’ And if scholars are too busy with administrative or lecturing duties, or too indifferent, or to inept to write for ‘humanizing agents’ such as the serious literary journals, there must be something radically wrong with the educational system. As indeed there is. But one gains an impression that too many academics inhabit intellectual funk-holes.
The production of vital imaginative literature is often in direct inverse ratio to literary scholarship. (Goethe: ‘Only a faulty knowledge is creative.’) Some years ago we published an editorial appealing for a reconcilation between scholarship, criticism and literature. For the truth of the matter is that this journal has always been more interested in what has become known as creative writing, rather than in critical writings about creative writings. The creator of quality prose, poetry and drama is the one who counts most. The critic, who indeed can be ‘creative,’ has a secondary role to play, but a role scarcely less valuable when it is competently fulfilled. When the critic is knowledgeable, lucid, courageous, he is the invaluable intermediary between writer and reader. Leading adventurously, and writing with urbanity and charm, he can be the life-blood of vigorous creation. But often an academic critic, particularly when examining our native literature, behaves like a schoolmaster castigating the mischievous pranks of the creator’s fancy. On the other hand, the non-academic critic has often had a passion for ranking or bestowing prizes — he tends to line up writers like jockeys at a barrier; or to grade them according to quality, like eggs; or for size, like bananas or cabbages. Thus in general criticism remains the most immature aspect of Australian literature.
And so today Meanjin — this particular kind, of journal — finds itself in an increasingly embarrassing position. The liteary output, in quality if not quantity, of non-academic writers has fallen off deplorably during recent years — for reasons which have in part been discussed in previous editorials. In some quarters academic snobbisme still regards Meanjin as a ‘hybrid’ — and thus offers an excuse for not reading it or writing for it. The academic tone of certain articles is resented by some lay readers — and thus presents an excuse for not contributing or subscribing. Lacking adequate ‘outside’ support to help counter any drift towards ‘institutionalism,’ as well as mounting production costs, the journal is becoming reluctantly but increasingly dependent for its very existence on an academic institution — which in turn has not yet fully realized the value of such a journal in the cultural life of the nation. Despite the degree of help and goodwill accorded Meanjin by the University of Melbourne over the past ten years, the editor has been subjected to humbug on a monumental scale.
Editorially regarded, all this adds up to the fact that we have been caught by the genitals. It is to be hoped that this singular misfortune does not also mean that in the end we will be completely emasculated.
Of course if we could only persuade two hundred reasonably well-to-do readers each to contribute £5 or £10 a year (tax free) to our Sustaining Fund, at least our economic problems would be solved.
And if only the University would make up its corporate mind to administer either the boot or the bottle of refreshing beer, we’d at least know where we stood. But the hedgers and ditchers . . .
Australian civilization at mid-century will be judged by its writers and artists, not by the bumblings of politicians or the fatuities of dehydrated academic ‘clothes moths.’ The cultural level of the whole of the Australian community could be raised enormously by the expenditure of an infinitesimal fraction of the sums now being squandered on atomic weapons and ‘defence.’ And a tiny percentage of the yearly profits of any big business concern could adequately finance and maintain a literary journal — for that matter half a dozen such journals.
So if the ‘editorial tone’ is sometimes ‘cranky’ — as a pseudo-pundit recently claimed in the Times Literary Supplement— is there any cause for wonder?
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Publication is a basic requirement for the production of a national literature: publication in printed form — books, periodicals, even broadsheets. Statistics of Australian publishing continue to make depressing reading. According to the Annual Catalogue (1955) issued by the National Library, Canberra, publications last year totalled 552,*** compared with 538 for 1954. Thus Australian publication figures remain more or less on a par with those for that mighty principality, Monaco.
(Top figures: U.S.S.R., about 50,000; United Kingdom, 19,962; United States, 12,589). New South Wales published most titles (278); next came Victoria (176) and South Australia (38). Of the total of 552, only 77 works of imaginative literature (poetry, fiction, drama, etc.) were published, as against 83 for 1954.
Australia still hasn’t got a publishing industry worthy of the name, despite the promise of the early post-war years and the courageous efforts of the few existing publishers. Yet books from Great Britain continue to flood into the country. Britain’s total output of 19,962 new books and new editions (£17 million) was higher by 774 than the previous record output of 1954. Exports were valued at £8 million Australia remains Britain’s largest single customer; about a quarter of Britain’s export total is disposed of in this country. Retail prices go up and up— but not comparable with increases in almost every other industry.
* See Meanjin, vol. 14, no. 4, for editorial comment. John Steinbeck is likely to visit the Games, as a tourist. James T. Farrell will come here in May on a lecture tour sponsored by a foreign-financed organization. It was hoped that the Federal Government would invite, as official guests, T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, the distinguished Australian expatriates, Gilbert Murray and Jack Lindsay, among others.
** The Senate of the University of Sydney early this year ‘approved in principle’ the establishment of a Chair of Australian Literature. Still another visiting scholar. Assistant Professor John Greenway, of the University of Denver, U.S.A., has expressed his ‘astonishment’ at the lack of advanced university study of Australian literature — thus joining Professors Bruce Sutherland, C. S; McCulloch, D. Nichol Smith, W. P. Friederich, Grove Day, H. S. Holden, and other visiting researchers. See Meanjin, vol. 13, nos. 2, 3, 4: ‘Australian Literature and the Universities,’ which was the first public discussion of this subject.
*** This figure includes all books, other than official publications, together with some of earlier years now noted for the first time. By ‘book’ is meant any book or pamphlet complete in itself as a single publication and containing five or more pages!