I’m tired. And tired of computers. Today I finished a draft of a chapter on the Australian poet Les Murray, and emailed it off to my supervisors. I always find deadlines stressful – I need them to force myself to get things done but they’re not pleasant. Anyway, the chapter is well on the way, and I have expanded the 2000 words of the conference paper I gave earlier this year to 15,000 words, which with a bit of tweaking will make a chapter.
Today is ANZAC Day – which for you non-Aussies celebrates the landing of the Australian and New Zealand forces in Gallipolli in 1915. And all wars Australia has been involved in since then. Les Murray is ambivalent about the role of war in cementing a nation’s identity – though I suppose it’s a pretty global thing. He compares it with human sacrifice, such as the Aztecs practiced. Dying in order to give a nation an identity doesn’t sound much fun to me either.
Coming from a family (on both sides) of conscientious objectors, ANZAC day has never meant much to me apart from being a public holiday. This is despite the fact that my great uncle (who was English) died in World War II when his plane disappeared. There was never any mention of sacrifice or bravery, just a sense of overwhelming tragedy and even shame (he left behind his mother, his sister and his fiance, who all adored him).
My chapter is about Les Murray’s use of medievalism to construct notions of belonging in Australia. This means the way he uses images of and ideas about the Middle Ages in order to form images of Australia and establish connections to it. This sounds like a pretty batty idea, but it’s not actually as strange as it first appears – it’s about the way we all use history as myth, to construct our own identities and homelands. As I’ve worked on the chapter I’ve realised that Murray does not only use the Middle Ages to establish a sense of belonging in Australia, but also to explore notions of not-belonging. The not-belonging I’m talking about here has to do with his Christian perspective of ultimately belonging in the next world rather than this one. The Middle Ages can be useful here partly because that’s the way people thought back then, and partly because it’s easy to imagine the Middle Ages as a sort of lost world, which can then be used to imagine a promised land, waiting beyond death.
ANZAC day is also about using history as myth. All these ideas have been swimming around my head today. How in some ways the soldiers are supposed to have died to help people to belong, but because they’re dead, the soldiers don’t belong, they belong (perhaps) somewhere else. And what about the awkward belonging felt by those who refuse to fight? The picture, culled from The Advertiser, shows the dawn service at the war memorial in Adelaide. It’s near the University. I’ve always liked the angel.