Tue, 04 Jan 2000

The difficulty of reading

Ms. Sjahlim of Jakarta says that I attack Mr. Brazier's name? (The Jakarta Post, Dec. 31, 1999, On Tonetto's comments). The Latins have the phrase nomen est omen. Yet she fails to see that Mr. Brazier (who by the way does not even give me the respect of title, Mr. or Dr., like Ms. Sjahlim herself) attacks my name and foundation unwarrantedly and without provocation, simply because I said some sharp things about the fecklessness and spiritual malaise of Australian culture today.

I recall Guenter Grass attacking German culture, and receiving little thanks for it from his countrymen. But then it is the function of writers and critics not necessarily to be representing the Office of Tourism, or to be rehashing platitudes that give patriots their flush of pride, but to be looking for the roots of life and disease, and the soil of continuance. Ms. Sjahlim errs again on the point of gay rights. Is it a "disintegration" of morality to be accepting gay rights? That is not the issue and never my point: Australia accepts gay rights, and that is right and good -- but all tolerance has obligations passing into every direction: gays must respect others' rights and religious practices and not insult them.

Yes, Ms. Sjahlim, the first piece of my article was for the most part, necessarily, dry, though never "arid"; that part of it, too, was not opinion: any conscientious exposition of legal principles, or facts, does not of itself have the buoyancy or gaiety of humor -- though you surely missed the bantering framework of my presentation, and of course the necessity of the exposition itself.

Oh, and that final gratuitous cliche that "no one else saw fit to dignify Tonetto's venomous letter with a response", sounds magisterial: so you dignify me after all, right? Unwittingly, perhaps, since my article on Australia is all about dignity, and celebrating life and forging a culture of consequence.