The robber of dead men’s dreams
There is a famous Australian literary hoax, called the Ern Malley affair. Two poets invented the Melbourne poet, you guessed it, Ern Malley to dupe literary journal editor Max Harris. It was all about modernism. This is some of Ern’s work, from Durer: Innsbruck, 1495:
Art is not easy
And you know, it’s pretty good. You can’t fake poetry. Sure you can fake an identity as McAuley and the other one did, but their combined talent. No. Although no one much remembers their other stuff do they?
But all this got me to thinking about all the angst and anger this hoax caused. And to thinking about trust, cynicism and pretension and posturing. Do we trust any more?
Of late, although where of I know not, sincerity has become uncool. It’s like everyone feels like they’ve been duped once too often by a couple of poets. Now angry cynics online haunt street corners sneering. But they’re sneering at everything indiscriminately: from a kid’s letter to the CSIRO, to mining companies, governments, planes, vaccinations, viral photos of parents doing parenting things, to efforts to stop whaling or shark culls. Nothing is free from attack and many a thing is attacked for the perception that it comes from the political Left or Right.
It wasn’t always like this was it? Once upon a time poetry was published in good faith that the poet existed. But now?
The point of education is to learn how to think, how to assess evidence, and how to debate points of view. At university it’s not called defending a thesis for nothing. But somehow, the academic effort to assess evidence has been translated in the wider society to a willingness to suspend belief in everything. The first classes I enrolled in taught me logic, and how to make arguments, and see the flaws in the arguments of others. Some take this as mistrust in the motives and truthfulness of everything.
That’s not the case.
I’m not blind to the fact there are liars and con artists in the world. The harder people work to sell me something the more I question the motivation. But I question. Questions are harder than jeering, even when an unexamined life is not worth living, because I wait for an answer. Jeerers don’t care about answers.
The mind repeats
At some point in the last 20 years all information became misinformation. Advice is a conspiracy to get you to spend money or keep you sick or be signed up. Conspiracies are mostly psychological tools of distraction, like how I imagine people worry about chem trails so as to not have to consider giving up a car. Feeling powerless and hard done by, by massive corporations and/or governments excuses you from examining how your own habits may contribute to the smog of the world doesn’t it?
In the end if you see that the poetry is good, enjoy it for the good poetry it is. Maybe it doesn’t matter who the author was or what the motivation for it was. Similarly if you analyse something and see the lie in it, call it out, but measure the hurt you may cause first.
First, do no harm, the doctors once said.
Shrunk to an interloper
I don’t know. Maybe we’re all lost souls crying out in our own personal noche oscuras, railing at things we don’t understand, can’t influence, or don’t exist because it is easier than to accept some kind of individual responsibility for things we might be able to change a little bit. We wouldn’t want to do something different would we, like appreciate a different kind of poetry? Imagine if everyone changes a little bit?
The vision of others
Finally, I try to remember that offence is always personal and mostly meaningless in the wider scheme of things. It might be a famous literary hoax but I can’t feel the offence Max Harris felt as I read the poems, rather I feel for Harris. But me expressing offence at something does little except stoke the fire of my own outraged ego. And I say this knowing next time I’m outraged by some event or political shenanigans.
Yet I say:
Be the poem, not the cynical poets of the world.