DOWN Under

20 Apr

Its easy to ignore Australia, that Commonwealth Nation being so far away and barely thought of as more than an outpost of the (sort of)English speaking world. My recent video viewing experience (thanks to Netflix) has caused me to take note of the skein of masterfully produced “films”— The Slap, Secrets and Lies and The Code from those parts. Interestingly, US networks have seen fit to rejigger the first two series for prime time American consumption and present the third as is to little or no reception (see if you can find a review).

Now I possess a fair amount of certainty that if you managed to find this small Internet way station, you can search-engine the details of the above mentioned series but suffice it for me to remark that I find the Australian productions preferable (though the US iterations are competent)

There are a couple of things that I thought were worth noting. Pointing to Cate Blanchett as an example, the women actresses who are cast in important roles in these dramatic series are very attractive but not by Hollywood standards (name some Australian women besides Blanchett and Kidman appearing in US produced films) except for Melissa George who appears in both versions of the The Slap(and seems lacking in any dramatic prowess). Nor are the ladies made up to look glamorous or alluring.

Australian diction is also remarkable for its variation from American English.For instance instead of saying “We’ll fix it ” or “We’ll work it out “, Aussies say “We’ll sort it out” or “We’ll get that sorted out”. “Foreign students” are referred to as “overseas students”. And their exclamations,”Oi” seem derived from Yiddish.

The pictures we see are not much different than the settings in the US except you rarely see any shade , overwhelmingly presenting the impression that Australia is a land of eternal sunshine.

Peter Carey [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Peter Carey [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

By the way, there is no shortage of great Aussie writers starting with Nobel laureate Patrick White and in recent years Peter Carey who I have spoken with twice; Here Carey and I chat about a passage from Philip Roth’s American Pastorale:

PC: That’s terrific! Who wrote that?

RB: Philip Roth. [American Pastoral]*

PC: That’s very, very, very good.

RB: Yes. I read that and thought, that’s what writers do, don’t they? You try to get people right?

PC: I wasn’t thinking about writing. I was listening to that thinking about life. It’s the business of life and how right and wise that is. The moments for writers when we experience it is when you go into an interview and writers come away, they say, ‘I didn’t say that! They totally misunderstood me!’ What it always makes me think of is the nature of existence. Most people don’t write things down but we are forever misunderstanding each other and what we think is happening is not what’s happening and so on.

RB: There’s more to my question. Yes, it is about life, but then we didn’t come here to shoot the shit about generalities about life.

PC: That’s true.

RB: So I thought, what’s the application of Roth’s remarks to someone who spends their time trying to create the ‘word people’ that Roth refers to here and the aspiration for them to be right, occasionally, within some framework?

PC: Right, yes, but there is some sort of bullshit inherent in the whole thing—

RB: [laughs]

PC:—of being the writer, because in the situation of being the writer you are not in the situation, you are in the situation presumably, occasionally of being all-knowing and so you can have that.

RB: Think about that.

PC: Well, you can. You can construct a world in which people do understand each other. My characters tend not to understand each other, as a matter of fact.

RB: Why is that? Who gets it right? That [Roth’s passage] reproduces, reflects the way people view each other. If your characters aren’t understanding each other, that seems the truer—

PC: I guess so. And they don’t even get themselves right, which is also true. We tend not to know each other. The difficulty with My Life as a Fake is that having this title which I really love—I loved it as a title—I never really thought of what powerful shit I am playing with when you have a title like that. What a vector of force it is and how it creates all sorts of understanding about the book that I didn’t intend. And coming back to this question of knowledge and self-knowledge. People will frequently say all of the characters are fakes and it’s hard to know who is the most fake. I don’t think any of them are really fake at all, least of all McCorkle, the poet who comes to life. And then they cite Sarah as someone who is fake. Well, I don’t think she is fake in the tiniest bit. She is somebody who certainly doesn’t understand her life. She doesn’t know who she is. She misunderstands people around her. None of these things suggest a lack of authenticity. She is intensely private about her sexual life. And you could say then that she has a fake persona. I wouldn’t say she was fake at all. I would say she was guarded, an armored vehicle in the world.

* You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on a significance that is ludicrous, so ill-equipped are we all to envision one another’s interior workings and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle with our ignorance every day?

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