Clive James: Keep Tokenism out of Literature

I wish I’d been at Australia House on Tuesday for the launch of 1464 page anthology The Literature Of Australia. No, not normally I wouldn’t, but I gather from those who were there that Clive James rather set the cat among the pigeons by having a dig at the book’s political correctness.

Presumably, as one of Britain’s three most famous resident Aussies, James had been invited along to the bash – presided over by the Aussie High Commissioner – to utter platitudes about how bloody great Aussie literature is. Instead, James wondered aloud whether it was really necessary to have included so much aboriginal literature.

The book’s editor Nicholas Jose protested that only 12.6 per cent (blimey, he actually knew) of the contents were aboriginal, and that furthermore the anthology had been put together on lines suggested by focus groups full of young people.

“And that’s the bloody problem, mate!” James replied. (Well, not exactly. I don’t unfortunately have a transcript of his speech. I got this from an Aussie friend who witnessed the event, enthralled. And from a brief report in the Londoner’s Diary). His objection, he said, was that this kind of tokenism did not serve the cause of literature. For a writer to be anthologised he ought  at the very least to have been recognised as worthwhile on the international stage – which few if any of these aboriginal writers had. By giving them 12.6 per cent of the book, James argued, the anthology editors had simply denied a place for other better Australian writers who ought to have been included but hadn’t.

You can imagine how well this speech went down. Like a cup of cold sick. One of the things we’re inclined to forget about Australia is that though the rural parts are full of what I’d call ‘immensely sound’ blokes and sheilas who think “bludgers” should be set to work down coal mines and believe man made global warming is a crock of kangaroo poo, the Aussie metropolitan class is an altogether different kettle of fish. As achingly PC and Burkini-endorsing as any libtard European.

Clive James, I salute you, sir! I know you probably hate me because I slagged one of your autobiographies once in the Spectator. But it took real moral and intellectual courage to say what you said in such company.

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