The tenderness of artistic types

By Rhonda Dredge

The path of a writer is hellish. Many take the safer journey into genre.

Organisations abound to help crime writers. Fantasy goes down well on the internet. 

But the plain old realist with mental health issues and a desire to expose the pretensions of Melbourne’s literary industry has to rely on his own little battered suitcase of knowledge.

After taking the reader on a journey through his own personal landscape, Luke Carman ends this collection of essays with In the Room with Gerald Murnane, a tribute to the shy master of sentences.

Intimate Antipathies is a brave book and a very funny account of the excruciating experiences of being a novice writer whom the literary establishment attempts to train up.

In the Cult of Western Sydney, Carman is coerced to rehearse on a chorus line of the unpublished for a writers’ festival and in A Northern Rivers Romance, he rides a bus full of positive-thinking fantasists into the bush. 

But it is in Getting Square in a Jerking Circle that he targets Melbourne, presenting the CBD literati as a pampered lot, who pretend to love literary culture but are more interested in the paper-thin sound of our own voices. 

Carman makes it clear where his loyalty lies – in a deep Murnanesque foray into the language of the mind. 

It cannot be denied that writers in this country are served up as tasty meaty bites to gatherings of readers, when they are much better at being introspective.

Carman won the 2015 NSW Premier’s New Writing Award for An Elegant Young Man and this gives him a platform for judging the pedigree of the Melbourne gatekeepers whom he finds too middlebrow. 

He uses his critique of the Melbourne Voice to penetrate the defences of the reader as he builds a case against the “cultish cabal” of arts administrators.

Secret deals, special desks and lucrative grants are some of the weapons wielded by these operatives.

In the cozy den of the Wheeler Centre and City of Literature, our “lit-scene mobsters” dole out praise to the undeserving and make it impossible for shy, young “lunatics, lovers and poets” to be taken seriously.

Carman comes from Sydney’s western suburbs. In the old days he could have drifted to Balmain to join the larrikins of the Sydney Push but now the Melbourne Voice dominates from the hallowed halls of Little Lonsdale Street.

What is the Melbourne Voice? Is it merely the voice of a reading culture emanating from the pleasant faces of the respectful personnel who spread the word through talks in the CBD or something more sinister? 

Starry-eyed accounts of dreams and deep suspicion that administrators are using writers to fill diversity quotas intermingle in a delicious blancmange of adventure and insightful critique in this book. 

Murnane offers final deliverance, a pathway for writers that helps them avoid the pitfalls of ideology and politics that dominate the literary scene.

Carman describes the tendency of the middlebrow to want more than is offered as “the cult of personality preying on the credulity and tenderness of artistic types in need of something to make them whole.”

Intimate Antipathies, Luke Carman, Giramondo, 2019

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