I have in my ‘possession’ an essay entitled The Solid Mandala and Patrick White’s Late Modernity by Nicholas Birns. I say in my possession when in fact it has been residing under an icon on my screen for some months and I forget how it got there. Downloaded from a letter from Professor Brother-in-Law maybe. Birns I’m pretty sure is a US academic and editor or past editor of the literary journal Antipodes. The essay itself is an extended discussion of the definition of ‘Late Modernity’ which is of some relevance to our upcoming AWW Gen 3 Week, Part II.
Late modernity as understood in this piece is composed of two key aspects. One is the dominance of the innovative, labyrinthine Modernist aesthetics developed in the previous generation – the generation born in the late nineteenth century, that of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and, most important for White’s text, T.S. Eliot – and inherited by the second-generation modernists, writers like White who were born in the first two decades of the twentieth century. The other is the political predominance of welfare state models and a strong public sector that provided significant employment. These two aspects are contrasted with the era of neoliberalism of the postmodern era (roughly 1970 and after) …
You’ll remember of course I have defined Gen 3 as the period from the end of WWI to the end of the 1950s. Now, it is very easy to argue that the 1950s in Australia extended well into the 1960s, and certainly that was true of my own white, rural, middle class, teenage years. But I am sticking with 1960 as the changeover from Gen 3 to Gen 4 because The Beatles; southern European immigration; the anti-Vietnam War movement; the Pill; Women’s Lib; and because it seems to fit with a changing of the guard from the mostly women writers of the inter-War years to a new generation around Thea Astley, Thomas Keneally, Helen Garner and David Ireland say.
These issues of periodisation indeed present many pitfalls. When dealing with the near past, people of different generations have different perspectives upon not only the nature of the near past but its degree of proximity; the very idea of a near past implies some people still living for which that past is still a part of active memory …
Ain’t that the truth! I am very passionate about my lived experience of ‘the sixties’ – which occurred I must say mostly in the early seventies.
Much as I deplore the end of the ‘welfare state’, I struggle to see its relevance to the literature of Gen 3. Indeed much of the writing in the Social Realism stream is to do with the failure of the state to provide the underclass with meaningful welfare (or employment), and to the largely middle class modernist stream it is irrelevant. An example of the former might be Say No to Death and the latter, Waterway. However, Birns argues that
… Waldo Brown and his brother Arthur, the co-protagonists of The Solid Mandala, are people who, in the late modern paradigm, however tormented and limited their lives are in individual terms, are provided a firm social foundation by their polity, and that this is an important factor in comprehending the novel and their place in it.
Waldo is I think employed by the Library, with a sense of security only a distant memory today. I am not going to argue with him (Birns) and indeed was more engaged by how he differentiated between this period and its successor, contrasting the conservatism and security underlying Late Modernism with the following generation of Regan/Thatcherism and globalism now generally contained in the catch-all “neo-liberalism”, and the cultural commodification of post-modernism. Subjects for another day! And how we are going define the end of Gen 4 I have no idea.
Nicholas Birns, The Solid Mandala and Patrick White’s Late Modernity, Transnational Literature Vol. 4 no. 1, November 2011.
AWW Gen 3 Week, Part II. I will start putting up reviews in the next day or so. Quite a number of you are planning to contribute, not all on the same day I hope, and I am quietly confident that with the two I have ready, I will be able to put up a review/guest review/repost each day for the week. Off the top of my head we will have Kylie Tennant, Christina Stead, Marjorie Barnard, Eve Langley, KS Prichard, Ernestine Hill, Elizabeth Harrower. Bloggers I haven’t spoken to can drop me a line here. And there will be a summary after the end of the Week with links to everyone’s reviews. I’m back at work as of yesterday, through to about 25 Jan, so hopefully I’ll be able to use Invasion Day to do my write-up.
Since AWW Gen 3 Week last year (here) I have put up the following posts (Woolf and Sackville-West are of course English but their works are central to the modernist project).
Katharine Susannah Prichard, The Pioneers (1915) (wadh)
Daisy Bates (theaustralianlegend)
Daisy Bates, The Passing of the Aborigines (1938) (wadh)
Miles Franklin, Bring the Monkey (1933) (wadh)
Marjorie Barnard, Miles Franklin (1967) (wadh)
Dymphna Cusack, Jungfrau (1936) (wadh)
Dymphna Cusack, Say No to Death (1951) (wadh)
Melbourne and Sydney (theaustralianlegend)
Sue (Whispering Gums) has three posts scheduled under the Bill Curates banner over the next week or so. If you miss them there’ll be links in the end-of-week summary.