Thursday, 3 March 2011

Saved by the Australian Literary Review

I was beginning to wonder what on earth I'd started here and how I was going to go on and on, when nothing seems to change at all, despite my grumpy bleating, (if, indeed, bleating can be grumpy). I'd gathered this collection of paragraphs containing flawed sentences that had been allowed to creep into print at either the Australian, the Sydney Morning Herald or the Australian Financial Review, but my heart had gone out of the thing:

 (I think you will find that 'at least' is the more usual usage);
 (Given that the article is about Mr Redegalli, an artist who painted a mural in Newtown, it's surprising to discover he's a resident of somewhere called 'Newton');

 (I find the idea of 'processors of dairy farmers' worrying - what exactly is going into our milk bottles?);
 (What on earth does that comma think it's doing, after the word 'work'?);
 (Joe Tripodi now gets a definite article?);
 (Where Chubb stands on repetition of definite articles, however, is anyone's guess);
 (I don't normally advocate Spellcheck, but it is useful if you are a complete moron);
 (Meanwhile, I am 'dismayed at how seriously' the ability to use verbs amongst the copy-editing classes 'has been disintegrating' - yes, 'has been disintegrating' is how we would put it in English, rather than merely 'been disintegrating);
(Taxpayers are pesky creatures - even without a natural disaster they are inclined to have an impact, although usually at the ballot box, when they get the chance).

Anyway, that was then. I'm now over that moment of despondence, and I have my trusty pal, the Australian Literary Review, to thank for that. The March edition of the ALR came out yesterday morning and, as usual - at least since the arrival of Luke Slattery as editor - it did not disappoint, (or rather, it did, in the sense that it was its usual pompous but illiterate self.)

This month, Slattery has, with splendid originality (hem hem), decided to drag out the old Donald Horne - Lucky Country chestnut.

Gosh, who knew? Apparently, Horne regarded the Australian people as second rate and the phrase was meant ironically. Slattery explains all this to us in the manner of a father communicating with a particularly dim infant. He then goes on, hilariously, to suggest that things have grown even worse since Horne's original sally into the national patrician sport of slagging off those who are not part of the self-selecting elite. These days, Slattery reckons, the Australian people are not just second rate but third or even fourth rate, placing no value on their marvellous intellectuals ('like me, Luke Slattery', is, I suspect, the unspoken message within that argument).

All I can say is that Slattery's editing skills do seem to bear out his argument about a decline towards the fourth rate. However, outside of the glittering circles of the ALR offices, there are still citizens of Australia who, if not first rate, are still capable of sorting out the word order in a sentence, who don't regard 'around' as a word that goes with 'questions', ('about' is a perfectly good word in this context - what's everyone got against it all of a sudden?), and who do know where to put a definite article (and, yes, you are right if you suspect that the unspoken message in that sentence is 'me, for instance'):

('How Horne would rate Australia today?'; 'But questions remain around our universities' contribution ...'; 'A recent audit of university research showed that the while our scientists punch ...'

If you are mounting a case for your publication as a tiny intellectual outpost, isolated in a sea of Philistinism, it is important that you exhibit your credentials as an intellectual in everything you say, write and do.

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