A discussion between Germaine Greer, Ian Turner
and Chris Hector recorded in Melbourne, February 1972.
Published in Overland 50/51 autumn 1972
IAN Germaine, it has usually been assumed by people who've talked about Australian cultural and intellectual life that there are two quite distinct styles of life - one Sydney, Andersonian, libertarian, not especially politically oriented, or politically cynical; the other Melbourne, the Protestant ethic, socialist oriented, do-gooding, more actively involved in politics. Does it look to you that that is a valid distinction between the styles of Melbourne and Sydney now that you're back after eight years away?
GERMAINE Well, it certainly must have been true when I was here before, because I ran away to Sydney because of this. I got tired of the incessant argumentum ad hominem that was the only kind of argument one could have in the Melbourne "drift". I had been taken up by the Melbourne intelligentsia, but it wasn't particularly socialist; I mean, David Armstrong was a vociferous member, and if David Armstrong was a socialist then I'm a tortoise. It seemed to me to be conspicuously apolitical, and to be full of bullshit specially about the value of art and the incapacity of the average human being to protect artistic values. There was a sort of anti-censorship attitude, but it was firmly convinced that literary merit was the thing with which to confront censorship. I don't ever recall anybody arguing that censorship was wrong in any form, that the less elegantly expressed art forms of the working class or the illiterate or the poor should have equal representation to the art forms of the Eltham inhabitants. I got very tired of that because I was very much a rationalist and very much atheistic and not given to romanticism. I ran away to Sydney because it was about the only place that I thought some reasonable criticism of life was being offered, where these spurious oceans of special privilege for special classes of people were just not contemplated.
I am much more political now than I was then - I'm an anarchist still, but I'd say now I am an anarchist communist which I wasn't then - and since I've come back I've done things like go to a meeting of...I can never remember all the different warring initials...I expected it to be a public meeting of 500 or 600 people talking about strategies for adoption in highly developed capitalist countries. In fact it consisted of about forty people, many of who kept walking in and out of the room and were obviously not paying much attention to the discourse. We were being addressed by some man who was taking an extremely optimistic line about reformist action leading to commitment to a revolutionary programme, which I think cannot be argued. Anti-apartheid movements have not necessarily got any connection with socialism unless the radicalisation of people in them is taken up quite conscientiously by the people who are working in the movement.. But there too the argument was ad hominem, factional argument. I was very distressed by this.
The libertarians may have a good deal of intellectual prestige in Sydney, but seeing that they speak in self-evident truths and tautologies most of the time it's not difficult for them to get intellectual recognition. What disappoints me most about all the radical groups in Australia is that they have not yet managed to make the Marxist dialogue a part of the cultural life of the country as a whole, which it is say for example in India - it's something you expect to see discussed in the daily papers. Here it's still going on in groups of forty or fifty - people meeting in Surry Hills or Footscray or somewhere.
IAN But is it part of the general cultural dialogue of any advanced nation, or is it a minority factional argument in all of them?
GERMAINE I don't know. Socialism is understood as an ideology in England, although it would be quite false to say that it was discussed in a poised or confident way in the columns of the daily press. India is special in this regard, but I think in other Asian nations, and certainly in Italy and France, the Marxist dialogue is understood. It is publicly conducted and isn't outlawed a priori before Marxists have even made a single criticism of the status quo. The interesting thing to me, speaking in terms of culture, is that Marxism has been incorporated as one of the basic philosophies of the 20th century. It's at least as important as Freudianism or Wittgensteinianism. But I don't think this is true in Australia at all.
It may be in the universities, but universities themselves occupy such a curious position in Australia. I mean, there is almost no class more loathed than the class of students, of educated larrikins, and therefore by association their long-haired bearded gurus who are giving them the means for subversion.
IAN Is it conceivable though that the dialogue of Marxism, of the class struggle, of revolution can become part of a general culture in a society as prosperous as Australia, where there is no overall political awareness, consciousness, depth of political feeling at a mass level? How can Marxism be anything else but a battleground for the minority factions?
GERMAINE Well, you see, I wouldn't put it down to affluence, this failure to take proper cognizance of the most important ideology of the 20th century. If you look at India, the apologists of Marxism are not the poor, who've never heard of it, they are the Indian middle-class inte1lectuals, and the same thing goes for Pakistan. The millionaire socialist is not a rare phenomenon in the sub-continent. Tariq Ali comes from a well established, rich, cultured, socialist family, and this may in some way compromise his Marxism; except that, as a Marxist, he can see perfectly well why redistributing his family's wealth among the poor will not make a blind bit of difference. It's much more important to radicalise the working class than to conduct a sort of Jesus campaign giving away your riches and climbing through the eye of a needle.
IAN But nevertheless they are talking in a society in which, whether or not the mass of Indian workers or peasants are aware of the subtleties of Marxist dialogue, they at least provide a social climate which makes revolutionary dialogue meaningful. Is revolutionary dialogue meaningful in Australia in your terms?
GERMAINE Look, I wouldn't take that, because the population in India is mostly peasant, and I think Engels' pronouncements about peasants are fairly exact. They are interested in land ownership; they're greedy, security-oriented, and it seems to me that one of the most important facts about Maoism is that it was able to develop a version of communism which appealed to the peasant mentality. Mind you, it also communicated with a peasantry who were more than usually deprived even for peasantry.
In Australia I think the problem is not that we have affluence but that we are brainwashed by an image of affluence, which doesn't really reflect the conditions of life of the majority if the people. Women and pensioners outnumber skilled laborers, for example, and yet all pensioners and many women live below the Poverty level. They earn an income which cannot enable them to live a dignified human life. You might even argue that workers' wages are not sufficient to support a family, that the phenomenon of the two-income family is something which Australia has had to contemplate. The tact that one in three married women of child-bearing age is at work says something about the adequacy of the average Australian wage when confronted with the cost of living.
What is much more insidious is that the Australian worker has accepted an image of affluence which does not actually apply to his way of life, but which he thinks will apply if he obeys the rules. So he's in a double bind. He is not so affluent that he can play ducks and drakes with his job-this is evident because strikes are easily broken in this country. So his affluence is largely bullshit. Yet he even has a moralistic attitude towards the poor, the losers on the scale of values.. He has fallen for the big confidence trick that under capitalism we can all get rich, which is not really true and has never been true, because capitalism is the most unstable economic existence for the workers.
IAN Yes, but when I speak of affluence I think of Australian society in comparison with, say, British or American society, comparable culture and economies. It seems to me that the general spread of wealth through this community represents a higher level of material standards than either the U.K. or the U.S. So I would press the argument that it's just because of this that revolutionary dialogue is a matter of minority groups.
GERMAINE Yes; but there is another problem, that when your working class is involved in a struggle for survival they have very little energy left for political struggle. The most militant unions, from my observation at any rate, are the richest, not the poorest. The poorest unions are often the ones made up largely of women, the reactionary, inert unions. The Waterside Workers' Federation is a militant union, but comparative to the rest of Australian labour the wharfies are very well paid. This is interesting because I would argue that you don't get militancy and concern with politics and ideology until the immediate anxiety about surviving from day to day has been relieved. So I don't think the argument about affluence is the one to make, because the affluence itself is spurious, and extreme poverty is also a way of incapacitating the masses, as happens in India.
This may seem very cynical and very strange for you to take, but I think it's much more a matter of the media, of the means of day-to-day public education. There is absolutely no question in my mind that in Australia these are controlled in the most cynical and devastating way, that working-class culture is produced on the lowest possible level with tits and arse on every page, with editorials by reactionaries which are expressed in hard-hitting, corny, pseudo-working-class language. I really think that the problem much more that the Australian working class is being systematically miseducated into not understanding its own aims, its own interests.
IAN Well, it's quite apparent that the mass of the Australian labour movement works on the assumption that a revolutionary situation does not exist in Australia at this time and is not likely exist in the immediate future. Do you challenge that assumption? What do you see as a meaningful radical strategy?
GERMAINE I think that is true. But it's also true that a revolutionary situation does not exist in India, for the opposite reason, that people are too poor. In Australia it seems to me quite clear that the notion of revolution to most workers implies more losses than it does gains. This is partly because of the wealth of propaganda about Russia which they are fed with, as if Russia were somehow synonymous with revolution, which neither you nor I would believe. In Australia there is probably less information than anywhere else in the world about Chinese Communism, Cuban Communism, Chile and all the other places where people are experimenting with new ways administrating social justice, some relatively reformist like Chile, some pseudo-revolutionary like Cuba, others genuinely mysterious like China. This is one of the penalties one pays for the absence of an open, reverberant Marxist dialogue. The word "communist" for Australians doesn't mean ownership of the means of production being in the hands of the people, it means OGPU and KGB and totalitarianism, that big, terrifying word. I'd put it down really to that.
This isn't a strictly Marxist viewpoint that I'm taking, because I would have to argue that ideology comes after economic factors. But I think that Marx never had anything in mind like the mass media. He couldn't have foreseen and he didn't foresee them. The power of television, which brainwashes the people night after weary night, is something which he had no way of reckoning with but which we must absolutely reckon with.
I would be much happier, for example, about Australia if there was, as there is in America, a free network alongside all the commercial networks. The way it works in the U.S. is that people get so sick of Dr. Kildare and the Saint and so on that eventually they turn on to Channel K or Z or whatever, just because they want to hear a discussion about a real issue. It may happen here eventually. The only reason that I allow myself to be soiled by constant contact with the media is because I really have great respect for their power. It is something quite unimaginable.
IAN If I try to talk in terms of a relevant strategy for Australian socialists at the present time, I say that the only sensible strategy for relatively rapid social change is one which accepts that reformist kinds of activities are the only ones that are really possible at the macro-political level, and therefore we must go for them; but also that things are changing at a base level, at a cultural level, that the challenge of the counter culture is finally what is going to produce the decisive change in society; and that it's a combination of these two elements which seems to me to be the best available way of producing change. Is that a strategy that you would accept?
GERMAINE Yes, but I would agree on other grounds. I think the justification of reformist policies is that they just might have the unlooked for effect of freeing more people for genuinely revolutionary activity. I don't really feel very uplifted at the thought of government subsidised day care, because I've seen too much of government subsidised schooling and it makes me vomit. I taught in N.S.W. state schools for two years and I really spent most of that time in a state of acute depression because of the extraordinary perversion of education I saw being enacted. You give them even more power when you give them the day care of our infants. But on the other hand you free so many women for other activities. I'm only interested in reformism in so far as it gives us more armaments to use for revolution.
IAN The counter culture seems to me to be as significant a cultural phenomenon as, say, the Renaissance, to involve a shift of the order of the Renaissance in the sense that it's challenging the Puritan ethic...
GERMAINE You might well be right, but the point about the Renaissance is that it didn't change the quality of life for 95% of the people. Like most cultural phenomena, it concerned the elite. All our cultural history is the history of the elite; we have almost no cultural history of the poor, of the peasantry or the artisan classes or the yeomanry. We have only the cultural history of the Medici family and their hangers on. I would say yes, but in saying that I wouldn't be saying any great thing.
I am interested in the counter culture, in many of its values, and I've gone out to bat for them more times than I can mention. But I'm deeply convinced, from my experience as a teacher and as a groupie and as all sort of things, that the counter culture has not made any significant difference to the way of life of the working class. The so-called sexual revolution, permissiveness, cunnilingus being practised in middle-class homes and so on, hasn't touched the working class at all ..."At all" is a bit wrong-very much, maybe. They are still sexually deprived, they're deeply romantic about the family and about monogamy, and they're still deeply sadistic in their expressions of overt sexuality. When you consider things like the prevalence of pack rape and low level rape, the misuse of women in every possible way, then you just have to say, oh yeah, the permissive society doesn't really exist. The permissive society hasn't included the poor or the ugly or the old, and they are still the majority.
IAN But aren't you caught in a logical contradiction here? If what you're saying is that the new values which are being expressed by the counter culture are being expressed primarily within an intellectual elite, and if you're also saying that it's the intellectual elite which in one sense or other determines the tone and the kind of values which finally seep through in the media and the educational apparatus, then won't these values work themselves through to the mass of society? And if they have a liberating character and direction, won't this finally result in some kind of liberation for society as a whole? I'm talking in terms of decades rather than revolution tomorrow.
GERMAINE Oh look, Ian, hopefully - or otherwise what hope is there for me. I'm a middle- class revolutionary, a member of the alternative society. I fuck all over the place, I have abortions, I don't get married, I do all those things. I don't wish to make myself completely irrelevant but what I do want to do is to tell myself that if there is a revolutionary change in the working class, it's not along with me. It's for its own motives - because it seized power in its own way, because it commandeered the media for itself.
Even when people write to me and say that they read "The Female Eunuch" and it changed their lives, they left their husbands, blah blah blah, I always write back to say it was not because of "The Female Eunuch" at all, it was the state you were in when the book appeared and catalysed it. The book is the least significant thing about that. So I don't think that I'm entirely irrelevant, and I don't think the counter culture is entirely irrelevant, but woe betide it if it thinks it's the vanguard of a revolution. In any genuine revolution the counter culture would be shot first; and so it must be because it has certain values that are inimical to the establishment of the new order.
I don't think that the counter culture ought not to exist - we have to use whatever weapons we have. A girl came up to me last night and said, should I continue with my education when we have so little time. I said, you owe it to other women and to your mother and to her sisters who couldn't get an education to get the best education you can and use it to clobber the people who oppressed your people. She said but there's so little time-because she was in some kind of hippie state about the imminent destruction of the world. I said, look, if the world is going to be destroyed soon you can't help a tinkers' damn. You have to go on living as if it wasn't going to be, just in case it isn't.
I would hope that the middle classes lose their stranglehold on culture. In the meantime, I am really glad that the A.B.C., and much, much more the B.B.C., are far to the left of the average viewer or listener. There's really a whole scene going on in England, because so many of the young media freaks are communist or socialist or Maoist, and they're trying to purge the information services of these young radicals. But it's part of the phenomenon that we all observe as teachers, that our best students happen to be left wing. There's no accident in that, because only a communist solution, whether it be libertarian or anarchist or Maoist or Trotskyist or whatever, only a communist solution of some sort can give us the wherewithal to solve the problems that face the world. It seems to me to be an intelligent decision on the part of these students.
IAN I think the point that I'm putting is that your political revolution, which has preoccupied Marxists for so long, probably has the end result of substituting one sort of bureaucratic elite for another, even if they have different motivations; but the genuine revolution must occur at the level of life style, of ways of thought and patterns of behaviour. Maybe the new ideas - the rejection of the Christian hostility to sex, of the Protestant work ethic - which appear to me to be the fundamentals of the counter culture are going to have a more liberating effect on society over four or five decades than political revolution.
GERMAINE Look, I would agree with that by and large. It has occurred to me as a feminist that Marx and Engels did not give adequate descriptions of sexual politics, that it is not enough to say that women must be incorporated in the productive process, because I can think of twenty countries where they have been essential to the productive process and they're still not given any kind of rights. One might as well argue that because oxen are necessary to the productive process, they ought to be given the vote. It doesn't follow. Sexual politics is something upon which traditional Marxists seem to me to be deficient. Perhaps cultural politics, too, given the extraordinary power that the cultural media have now got.
Nevertheless I have never expected very much of the counter culture. I was not surprised when the Jesus revolution appeared. I never expected anything of the heads, the LSD takers and the drug takers, and Timothy Leary will never be a significant political figure because he really thinks LSD liberates people. The only thing LSD does that might be of value in my terms is that it might make people aware of how oppressed they are, but it certainly won't liberate them.
The trouble is of course that there are red herrings all over the place. The drug thing was one red herring. Perhaps sexual politics may be a red herring if it's not properly expounded, and gay power may disappear up its own bum - but I must say about gay power in particular that its politics seem to be rather more sophisticated than the politics of many other movements. What worries me most and will probably worry me all my life is that with all of these left wing groups, each with their own interest and understanding, it's always much easier to bitch the movement next to you than to attack the common enemy, because the common enemy inspires awe. There's always that problem of identifying with the oppressor which occurs among oppressed people and therefore bitching your next door revolutionary because he's got one clause wrong in his manifesto. The counter culture itself doesn't touch the working class.
CHRIS But that's because the working class is a reactionary force in society, because they're the ones who are conned into believing that the society can offer them something. There's a myth about them. Okay, they're not affluent, but they believe that affluence is worth getting. It's the people who have had the affluence and who are rejecting it, like you and me, who will become the revolutionary force in society, because they've got all the benefits it offers.
GERMAINE But of course, as a Marxist, you would have to argue that they're not materialists, and therefore they cannot be expected to accomplish anything.
CHRIS That's crude, that's really crude.
GERMAINE So is two and two is four crude, but it's true.
CHRIS Marxism isn't like that. It doesn't say that the material base means that people must act for material motives, but merely that the material base determines the culture, not that the material base is the culture.
IAN Look, Mailer says ...maybe he's a dirty word...
GERMAINE No, he's not a dirty word, he's an intelligent man. I'm not altogether sure how serious he is. There's nothing more significant in the world to Mailer than Mailer's own self. But he's not a dirty word.
IAN Well, in "Barbary Shore" he makes a point which seems to me to be very important. The Only reason for socialism to fill men's bellies is so that they'll know then how empty their souls are. What he is saying is that you can't expect the values of a new culture - the rejection of the work ethic and the rejection of the Christian hostility towards pleasure in sex - you can't expect that kind of transformation of the total culture to take place until wealth is spread sufficiently through the community to enable people to think above the level of their bellies.
GERMAINE I would agree with that, but all I'm saying is that if you look to the counter culture for an economic revolution, you're simply looking in the wrong place.
IAN I'm not looking to it for an economic revolution, I'm looking to it for the fundamental shift in values which I think it represents.
GERMAINE What is historically more likely is that if there was an economic revolution, without which most of the values of the counter culture could never be recognised, then the first reaction would be to reject this counter culture.
CHRIS The economic revolution exists anyway. There's this whole capitalist framework which demands ideas and thinking people for its continued existence. The major part of society is no longer productive labour, it's ideas, it's sort of McLuhanist thought; but these people are offering a new class as well as a new culture. It's not that the counter culture is in a vacuum; but in a Marxist sense, it does have an economic base. The demand for creative thinkers is persistent, and that's where the system is fucking itself.
GERMAINE I can see a point in this too, because what's happening in England and America is that the intelligentsia is becoming proletarianised. One of the classes best represented in current unemployment in England would be the intelligentsia, the university teachers, the high school teachers and so on, many of whom were trained for positions that didn't exist because there was an extreme retrenchment. So there were a great many intellectuals who found that there was no niche prepared for them in society. The discontent of the educated classes will be a revolutionary force in itself, but it won't itself control the revolutionary situation.
IAN Don't you have to separate the economic revolution, which is a product of industrialisation, automation, computers, from the political revolution which is a question of power? I think that the economic revolution is taking place in all industrialised societies, the U.S.S.R. as well as the U.S.
GERMAINE Monopoly capitalism and state capitalism don't look very different. I mean, General Motors employs more people than the population of many European states. Totalitarianism has many forms and monopoly capitalism seems to be one of them, especially when you look at the kind of ideological conformity demanded of the American employee. For along time I've believed that the leviathan of capitalism is eating himself up, chewing on his own tail; but I'm also uncomfortably aware that he is in such desperate straits, this great monster, that he may eat up his own children as well. America does that too. I mean shooting children in the street. I'm very frightened about the conventions next summer because I know something is planned for San Diego, and I know that whatever is planned for San Diego is fully known to the F.B.I. and everybody else. There will be a clash on the streets of San Diego unless it's subverted by some very adroit manipulation. The National Guard in America has been equipped with M16 rifles with end-over-end tumbling bullets which don't just stop a man - they kill him, tear his limbs off.
IAN Right, you say America, and America is...
GERMAINE America still dictates the terms for the rest of the world.
IAN Right, but aren't you likely to have exactly the same kind of clashes on the streets of Moscow, because it is now a highly industrialised society, as on the streets of New York or San Francisco?
GERMAINE Yeah, but one of the reasons you don't get clashes of that kind, or one of the ways to prevent clashes of that kind, is to provoke a situation of hostility with an imagined exterior power. This is what is being done to check the spread of socialism in Europe. They are being told that their greatest enemy is Russia and creeping socialism, and in a helpless kind of dazzled way they believe it.
IAN What do you understand by socialism? What does the word mean to you?
GERMAINE It depends in what context I'm arguing. When I talk about the dismantling of the welfare state in England, I'm simply talking about things like the health service, the welfare service, the attitude towards unemployment, all of which have changed, and the fact that we used to have very heavy taxation on the upper income bracket which is being lightened by leaps and bounds. I mean, someone like me who has earned a great deal of money in one year could expect to have been taxed 95% until Heath said you'll only be taxed 75%. It doesn't look like much, but in fact it's a great deal. They're freeing the entrepreneurial class to rescue the English economy and down the English working class, that's how it's being done. The taxation on the working class has not been lightened. They'll go back to the old reactionary European pattern of heavily taxed working class and over-rewarded entrepreneurial class. [Miaow ...What is it, puss? Oh, blossom. Liberate the animals ...] What worries me most about the counter culture is that it refuses to concern itself with any immediate political issues, even the ones that...
CHRIS The reality is that the logic of our technology is complete automation, and the only people who can handle complete automation, which requires getting rid of the Protestant work ethic, are the counter culture people who are contemptuous of material rewards. We are the only economically relevant class because we don't give a shit about money.
GERMAINE Only a socialist class knows how to manage closed loop automation, only a socialist country cares about that.
CHRIS Only those of us who don't want to work know how to handle automation.
GERMAINE Very few people want to work. They don't know how to get an income without doing it.
CHRIS Those of us who positively don't want to work...
IAN My proposition is that the real raison d'etre for the existence of a socialist movement is that it is only a socialist movement that can get off the progress bandwagon.
GERMAINE I would agree with that just on historical factors. Closed loop automation is more highly developed in Russia than anywhere else in the world. Closed loop automation is what will redeem us from having to work for a living.
CHRIS That's got nothing to do with the working class. It renders the working class totally irrelevant to any kind of Marxist scheme or even a revolution.
GERMAINE No, not totally irrelevant, that's not true. Everybody will have to work some of the time regardless of how much closed loop automation there is.
CHRIS It won't be work, it'll be play.
GERMAINE The distinction between work and play is wrong anyway. I mean, the natural state of human beings is to be active, and I would call that work regardless of whether they're playing hopscotch or producing boots.
IAN Hang on, the real problem seems to me to be that if you take seriously the popularisations of people like Erlich ...
GERMAINE Unfortunately, I have come from the outer world where Erlich is not a name to conjure with, and I know nothing about him. It's only in Australia that he's regarded as a great thinker.
IAN I'm not saying that Erlich is a great thinker. All I'm saying is that the only people who can take seriously the proposition that economic growth in terms of increased productivity, the increasing use of natural resources, is finally going to destroy us, the only people who can reverse the 19th century concept of progress, are the socialists, and the socialists are going to have to go back to William Morris.
GERMAINE I have a great admiration for William Morris, but it's not just a question of going back to him. William Morris was right in supposing that industrialisation should mean that the people of the world would have access to a greater variety of manufactured goods than ever before, that what it would mean was that we could have more beautiful things in our houses, more variety in the shapes of buttons, in the kinds of shoes, in the kinds of textiles. In fact this has not eventuated. Monopoly capitalism means that the choice of the buyer grows daily more restricted. William Morris never foresaw that, and he has given us no modus operandi for a revolution which will destroy the power of the producer to dictate the wishes of the consumer.
There was a very good case in the press recently, where the housewife was being upbraided for being the greatest polluter in our community. The housewife is only the greatest polluter in the community because she has to buy goods produced under monopoly conditions. She has to buy biscuits in bloody plastic containers that can't be destroyed, because they're not sold any other way. It's completely typical of the way in which the burden of guilt is constantly transferred to the consumer that there have been so many editorials about this delinquent housewife who is using non-biodegradable detergent, whereas what is in fact happening is that she's being misled by trade descriptions over which she has no control.
IAN It's only the socialist movement which can say, of course, we all need refrigerators, and refrigerators are best mass-produced; of course we all need furniture, but furniture is best handmade by yourself or your mate - you make furniture, I make jewellery, she makes something else.
CHRIS Shouldn't we be defining a socialist man?
IAN I'm defining me.
CHRIS You're defining you, and if there's anybody else who fits into your category, it's not the socialists, it's the counter culture. All those socialists have got bloody Buckley's ties and Anthony Squires' suits and fucking Falcons in the drive way and Venetian bloody blinds. Every single fucking socialist in Victoria.
GERMAINE But in any case I don't think that's a typical socialist view, and I don't think that it even goes without saying. There are mass produced chairs which are very beautiful, but there are fifty times more mass-produced chairs which are hideous, and I would put that down to the power of the mass producer to dictate to the buyer. I can buy a beautiful mass-produced chair for three hundred bucks, made in stitched leather and tubular steeling, which is itself a typical product of mass production.
You see, there's an aesthetic heresy in William Morris. He thought what mass production was going to do was to ape the hand-made goods. The interesting thing would be that, once the anxiety about where the next meal was coming from was relieved because production was established in terms of closed loop automation, then presumably one could make one's own chairs. That would be the nicest thing of all, even if they weren't terribly good chairs and they weren't going to win any prizes.
IAN Yes, that's right, because when you are making your own chairs, they don't cost anything except time...
GERMAINE ...and love...
IAN ...and love...
GERMAINE ...and attention...
IAN ..and that's not work, that's ..
CHRIS. ..that's play...
IAN. ..that's play.
GERMAINE But ever so many Australians believe that it's much nicer to have your own business as a plumber or a corner-store salesman or a salesman selling on commission for a big firm or something like that. The Australian masses cherish the idea of being self-employed, and I don't really think that is what you mean. The distinction between work and play isn't that you are self-employed or employed by another. It's that play is what you do for its own sake and not for any kind of earning. I am firmly committed to the belief, because I am an ectomorph or whatever you say, that people work naturally. It's in their nature to be doing something and they are happiest when they are doing it.
What is even more insidious than working for wages is enforced idleness in return for wages. I worked for the civil service in Sydney for three months, and I had a nervous breakdown because they wouldn't give me any fucking thing to do. They said, what are you complaining about, you've got nothing to do. I said, it's precisely that; I've got so much energy and so much skill and you're not making use of any of it.
IAN Right, but surely you cannot define work in terms of...
GERMAINE Enforced idleness...
IAN No, of people actually doing things. I would define play in terms of people doing things that they like doing, whether they happen to be building furniture or surfing or painting.
GERMAINE But then you might argue that as a university teacher I am playing all the time, because I dearly love my work.
IAN I agree. I argue in exactly those terms.
CHRIS The thing is that if it's determined by your outside circumstances, if you have to be a university teacher because otherwise you starve, that's called work; if you happen to be a university teacher because you like being a university teacher, that's called play because it's related to your own being.
GERMAINE I really don't think we will get very far by preserving that distinction. When a child plays with a milk bottle top, or a broken transistor radio, or anything, he is doing so much more, he is gaining so much more it's still a productive activity. I think that I would be just as happy to call it work all the time or play all the time. I think probably work all the time, because I have a sentimental attachment to the word.
IAN I think work means doing things that you have to do because you have to earn a quid and play is doing things that you like doing even if incidentally you happen to be paid for them.
CHRIS The good productive things of childhood are the things that the kids do themselves like when they go down to the creek and look in the creek and think about water and fish and the grass and things like that. And the bad things are when they have to sit in a class and learn about the life cycle of the mosquito. They do that because it's external. Okay, they're five years old, but they're working. When they are doing the good things, they are playing. Work is an oppressive word.
GERMAlNE I reckon that D. H. Lawrence is not altogether a contemptible thinker although his particular sort of socialism led him hard up against the face of fascism too many times. There is a poem by D. H. Lawrence about work, which I believe, which goes: "There is no point in work unless it absorbs you like an absorbing game. If it doesn't absorb you, if it isn't any fun, don't do it. When the Hindus weave long lengths of stuff with their thin dark hands and their wide dark eyes and their still souls absorbed, they are like trees giving forth leaf. They are living, not merely working".
IAN The tape's running out. Quick answers to quick questions. Looking at Australia, is the counter culture, the youth movement any different from the U.K. or the U.S.?
GERMAINE I can't really answer in any general way because I don't know enough about it. The "Thorunka" case, for example, suggests that the counter culture is more ideologically consistent here than it is overseas, at least in that particular example. "Thorunka" is much more committed to a particular philosophical attitude than most underground productions in other parts of the world. There is also a painful feeling, at least to me, of emulation, rather tardy emulation, of overseas patterns.
IAN Are there any new themes? Is the Australian counter culture or the culture generally more concerned, perhaps without articulating them, with existential, immediate kinds of responses and behaviour?
GERMAINE Gee, I can't really say. I've muddled about the whole thing. I don't know that it is very different from California. It's very different from England, because one can't risk the kind of spontaneist life that one can here.
GERMAINE There is just not enough wealth around. Your drop-out class is always a direct mirroring of your surplus value. There's not that much in England, there's nothing extra to go round. There is a phenomenon in America and Australia of the hippie drop-out kids who are financed by their parents because of a sort of blackmail they apply. Even the Hare Krishna Temple Choir has got money here. In England, that's a dubious thing; if you want money for a choir you ask George Harrison, but I'm prepared to bet that George Harrison hasn't bought the Combi Van that the Choir uses around here. They bought that out of their own money, and they have very glossy publications and so on. I think that Australian nonconformism is perhaps more anarchist than elsewhere.
IAN Repression: do you feel that Australia is a more repressive society than the U.K. or the U.S.?
GERMAINE Yes, as a rule of thumb I would yes.
GERMAINE Well ...Mind you, things have changed a bit in England because there have been some rather hair-raising prosecutions of underground publications. There have been repeated raids, and destruction of personal property and confiscation of files that didn't enter into the actual prosecution.
Nevertheless, just to quote a middle of the line example, I write a column for the "Sunday Times". It has never been censored so far as I know except for just one small example, where I said that where else in the world but Australia would a generous man be defined as one who would give you his arsehole and shit through his ribs. I think that they cut that sentence, I'm not even sure, whereas in Australia it would go without saying that that line would not appear in a daily paper. Whereas, with nearly everything I have tried to do in Australia, I've been told beforehand what I could say or do, or else it has been jiggled about with afterwards, and in the case of television interviews the tapes have been called in for review. I think that there is more censorship in Australia and I think that it's more virulent. The show-cause trials that occurred in Melbourne - I'm sure they would be objected to as unconstitutional in America and in England. People would argue that it is just not on to grab a whole lot of publications and then make a bookseller show cause why they should not be destroyed, and to give the publisher no chance of redress if the bookseller should feel that he did not particularly want to fight that case. But then on the other hand, the old breathaliser is a good example of the same thing, and that applies in England.
IAN Democratic, egalitarian?
GERMAINE Nowhere. Nowhere in the world is democratic and egalitarian. All democracy that I have observed is pseudo-democracy. The centres of power are always the same, the systems of patronage always the same.
IAN What about the proposition that in Australia the intelligentsia are cut down to size, that they are not treated as an elite and that this is part of Australian egalitarianism?
GERMAINE That is bullshit in one sense because here at least the intelligentsia are highly paid. In England we are paid less than forklift truck-drivers which reduces us to size. On the other hand, we have more prestige in the columns of "The Times", but what prestige in the columns of "The Times" really means is another matter.
IAN Intellectually enquiring, or derivative?
GERMAINE I think one is not entirely exclusive of the other. I think Australian culture is derivative, but then if you were to read an Australian critique of Marcuse, say, by a political scientist you might expect to find less awe. In fact there is a kind of pettishness about foreign influence, which means that you object to it. The sort of objection made to hippie jargon on the grounds that it's a misuse of the English language. The two things go side by side. There's a kind of helpless absorption of foreign culture partly because there are only twelve million people here and how much can they be expected to produce; and on the other hand there is a chauvinistic desire to retain an Australian culture even though most people won't have read "Such Is Life" and don't know who Henry Handel Richardson is and don't care that Henry Handel Richardson's house is being knocked down.*
IAN You've had a fresh look at the Australian intelligentsia; do you think that we are frightened or threatened by the high powered stuff that goes on overseas, or alternatively by the way in which Australian society is alleged to cut the high poppies down?
GERMAINE I can't answer that question very easily. I've been subjected to a fair amount of philistine criticism which I certainly have never encountered anywhere else, complaining of some of the words I use and so on. But then someone like David Armstrong is pursuing a quite untenable line about Vietnam but pursues it lively in all quarters just the same. I think he is just as much protected by his grey eminence as he is threatened by it. There is an odd ambivalence about the whole thing, and I can't sort it out very well. I notice that if I make a particularly stringent point on television, the interviewer, who has perfectly well understood what I've said, is likely to say, "Oh! you've lost me there I can't cope with that. You used a three syllable word there." But that's pretty much bullshit, there's a lot of posturing goes on. You see, there's always this idea that Australia has got a genuine working class culture which is all two-up and boozing and straight talking and strong man stuff. It's not really true...
[At which point the tape and the whisky ran out more or less simultaneously.-I.T.]