We’re doing it all again

In 2008 I was heartened by Tony Kevin’s conclusion (Eureka Street 11 Apr 08) that Prime Minister Rudd’s current trip was doing much to repair the damage done by the Howard government to Australia’s international reputation. For there was much repair work to be done. In particular, we had to stop slavishly emulating the U.S. foreign policy. Mr Kevin said then:

I don’t think Rudd-immersed in domestic politics these past ten years—understands how much Australia put the UN General Assembly offside under John Howard’s rule. … Still-fresh images of Australia voting with UN pariahs, the US and Israel and a few bought failed states, and of Australian delegates taking orders from US delegates in corridors, behind the meeting rooms and near the toilets, will not be quickly forgotten.

Australia offended the majority UN membership by the way we treated refugees in detention, by pushing refugee boats away, by anti-Muslim harassment at home …

I’ll stop there. We’re doing it all again. I try not to be too angry or ashamed.

C.S. Lewis: eloquence and clarity

Many have noted that 22 November 2013 was the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. (Clive Staples) Lewis (1898-1963). This prayer is from James Kiefer’s hagiography.

Almighty God, whose servant Clive Staples Lewis received of your grace singular gifts of insight in understanding the truth in Christ Jesus, and of eloquence and clarity in presenting that truth to his reader Raise up in our day faithful interpreters of your Word, that we, being set free from all error and unbelief, may come to the knowledge that makes us wise unto salvation: through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

The prayer brings out so clearly the two aspects of Lewis’s gifts and ministry—an understanding of and love for the truth and eloquence and clarity in its presentation. How we need both! I have especially appreciated his Letters to Malcolm, chiefly on prayer, Miracles: a preliminary study, Reflections on the Psalms, The problem of pain and A grief observed. Also interesting and enjoyable is Roger L. Green and Walter Hooper’s C.S. Lewis: a biography (1974). Would that Lewis had lived longer.

Cocooned in time

betjemanHe wrote forty year ago, but Betjeman’s impression of intercontinental air travel remains contemporary.

Cocooned in time, at this inhuman height,
The packaged food tastes neutrally of clay,
We never seem to catch the running day
But travel on in everlasting night
With all the chic accoutrements of flight:
Lotions and essences in neat array
And yet another plastic cup and tray.
“Thank you so much. Oh no, I’m quite all right”.

At home in Cornwall hurrying autumn skies
Leave Bray Hill barren, Stepper jutting bare,
And hold the moon above the sea-wet sand.
The very last of late September dies
In frosty silence and the hills declare
How vast the sky is, looked at from the land.
— “Back from Australia” from A nip in the air (1974) by John Betjeman

Delight (Priestly)

delightOne of my great delights is good writing-essays especially. I aspire to be a clear and succinct writer myself. A fine example is Delight as small collection of by pieces J.B. Priestly, in which he tells of things that delight him, as if to contradict what he supposes to be his reputation for grumpiness. One of his delights is clear well crafted writing, of which he writes in chapter Twenty Six of the book. I also like the presentation and typography of British books from the 40s and 50s. They’re more compact and economical that what we often have today, with interesting fonts.

At the end of a long talk with a youngish critic, a sincere fellow whose personality (though not his values) I respect, he stared at me and then said slowly: ‘I don’t understand you. Your talk is so much more complicated-subtle-than your writing. Your writing always seems to me too simple.’ And I replied: ‘But I’ve spent years and years trying to make my writing simple. What you see as a fault, I regard as a virtue.’

There was now revealed to us the gulf between his generation and mine. He and his lot, who matured in the early ‘thirties, wanted literature to be difficult.

Read the whole chapter …