Friday, May 20, 2011

Guy The Goose

NOT ALL the notes arriving at the Billabong are penned in vitriol’s ink, and the alert that arrived this morning from “Bob on the Murray” is one of those. “Have you seen Crikey?” he wonders, going on to note that Guy Rundle has done to George Orwell what so many others have found irresistible: conscript him posthumously to various and often contradictory causes. Conservatives, hard-to-port lefties, environmentalists – all are a bit too fond of grinding Orwell’s bones to make their bread. As Brit left-leaner Alistair Harper observed last year in Prospect magazine, “Crudely put, George Orwell is anyone’s bitch.”

Now Rundle has appointed himself Orwell’s latest butch cellmate:

The Australian’s war against Manning Clark had a final twist this week when Fairfaxista Gerard Henderson weighed in, to remind readers that among the million-plus words Clark published, he once remarked that Lenin had a “Christ-like visage”, and that appears sufficient to damn his reputation. This pathetic snippeting represents the sad decline — from debate to culture war — that makes genuine intellectual life impossible. What, for example, would the Henderson kid make of this quote:
I have to put it on record that I have never been able to dislike Hitler … that Christ-like face, so full of suffering.”
The speaker is neither Oswald Mosley nor even Sir Robert Menzies, but George Orwell (Collected Journalism Vol 3, item 1). Even more amazingly it was from a review of Mein Kampf, published — near incredibly — the day Britain declared war on Germany.

As a former winner of  The Age Non-Fiction Book of the Year award you expect Rundle to get a few things wrong, but the above attempt at literary necrophilia is a genuine shocker. Start with a glaring error of fact: The Mein Kampf review was not published on “near incredibly -- the day Britain declared war” or even, near incredibly, in the same year. That conflict officially began on September 3, 1939, two days after Hitler invaded Poland, and not, as Rundle believes, on March 21, 1940, when the edition of New English Weekly which carried the review reached newsagents.

As to the review itself, you would not get the gist of Orwell’s thoughts from Rundle’s snatch quote, which is nothing less than the slandering by abridgement of a man who copped a bullet in the throat while fighting fascists in Spain. Yes, Orwell did write of being unable to “dislike Hitler”, but that was not all he had to say. Here is the full quote, the one Rundle bowdlerised in the interests of making his dishonest point:

I should like to put it on record that I have never been able to dislike Hitler. Ever since he came to power — till then, like nearly everyone, I had been deceived into thinking that he did not matter — I have reflected that I would certainly kill him if I could get within reach of him, but that I could feel no personal animosity.

Rundle deploys ellipses – that same “pathetic snippeting"  he decries in Henderson --  to conceal Orwell’s meaning. So here for the record are the words he found it expedient to flush down the memory hole, as the man whose memory he is smearing put it in 1984:
The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. One feels it again when one sees his photographs — and I recommend especially the photograph at the beginning of Hurst and Blackett’s edition, which shows Hitler in his early Brownshirt days. It is a pathetic, dog-like face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. In a rather more manly way it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified, and there is little doubt that that is how Hitler sees himself. The initial personal cause of his grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate the grievance is there. He is the martyr, the victim. Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds. If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon. One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, that he can’t win, and yet that he somehow deserves to. The attraction of such a pose is of course enormous; half the films that one sees turn upon some such theme.
So where did Rundle get that quote, which appears nowhere in the original review? Notice the difference between “that Christ-like face” and the actual text, which reads “the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified”?

It is a question Crikey’s editor should mull before putting it to her star correspondent. Were she to extract a coherent answer it could be dreadfully embarrassing to admit the goose-stepping boys at Stormfront  are deemed a reputable source of inspiration.

FOOTNOTE: Orwell’s widow, Sonia Blair, was a fierce guardian of his legacy and reputation, sometimes stripping out little bits of her late hubby’s work she must have foreseen would be open to mis-quotation by the cherrypicking Rundles of this sorry world, where “genuine intellectual life” is “impossible”.  In the wife’s version of the Mein Kampf review the line about never being able to dislike Hitler was made to vanish entirely. Like Rundle, Sonia found ellipses very handy.

UPDATE: Is Rundle incapable of even the most undemanding transcription? Apparently. He quotes the Henderson letter at which he takes umbrage as saying Lenin had a “Christ-like visage”.

It is well established that the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin was a corrupt killer. Yet, in Meeting Soviet Man, Clark declared that Lenin was "Christ-like, at least in his compassion".
Wrong again, Mr Rundle, wrong again.


  1. Professor, I have only just been alerted to your return to blogging, and what a welcome return it is. I now have a task for the weekend: to devour the archives.

    I trust everything is well at the Billabong and my fondest regards to you.

  2. As I am sure you are aware, Rundle's behaviour is standard practice in the Universities; mostly by students, but also by some staff. Many of the latter tolerate the practice of misquoting, either by use of the ellipsis, or by simply changing a word or three. It is simply not worth the trouble (and can be career-damaging) to take on a student. In any event, an examiner's objection that 'you have misquoted' is met with the response 'well, that is my reading of the text'.

    Like you, I retired (hurt) from a university, and left in despair at the prospect that change would come any time soon. More power to you if you can have any influence. I suspect that a return to integrity in academia depends on a change in practices in the schools. One hopes that incoming Liberal/Coalition governments in the States will brave the teaching unions and even many parents to reform practices that have produced the current crop of undergraduates, graduates and staff.

  3. James of StanmoreMay 20, 2011 at 6:38 PM

    Bunyip, I am enjoying your return most heartily with a very large martini. Long may you reign. Cheers.

  4. PhillipGeorge(c)2011May 20, 2011 at 8:12 PM

    If memory serves me correctly, until about a hundred and a bit years ago universities required all undergraduates to advance at least one major theological treatise in their years. The culture was certainly different then. It was once established in lores, laws and mores the features of Christendom.

    The sort of lying cited above cannot be tortured into recognisably falling within the boundaries of paraphrasing loosely nor of poetic license with the text. Here then the indeed incredible are seeking some modicum of acceptability with recourse to the meritorious works of the respectable - and failing all the same.

    The lores, laws and mores now cumulatively point to a people divided within their common language.

    It's Jesus again; new wine for new wine skins. The biblically illiterate are more apt to be morally so.

  5. Stanny of 2068
    excellent opus on Crikey's so called star. He certainly never holds up under much scrutiny he is to political writing what those port side economists Peter Martin and Ross Gittins are at Fairfax "featherweights".
    an honorary doctorate awaits

  6. Given the references to personal appearances, I felt compelled to search out images of Mr Rundle's visage; bit of a butterball isn't he, as well as in thought.


  7. Hey Professor:

    Guy Rundle isn't a goose. He's the most desarable man in the South of France. Le seducer de Cannes, they call him. In Strine that means chick magnet. Have a look at le seducer de Cannes here:

    Handsome little devil, isn't he.

  8. Genuine intellectual life might be impossible because there are very few, if any, genuine intellectuals.

    The Rundle/Sophie Black type of poser, however, as evidenced by this glorious example, abounds.

  9. I don't know Guy Rundle, but he surely is another of the masses of pseudo-intellectuals who continue to peddle their personal versions of the mainstream socio-political view of life as it has to be. As an old,long retired journo raised on the ethos of truth and integrity, I squirm badly at the standard of news gathering that is the norm today. The facts are largely redundant and subjugated by defined political and social agendas....generally well left of centre. Is it any wonder that joe public now chooses to get his daily feast of news via the PC screen....not perfect, but better than the rubbish peddled by mainstream newspapers and radio. Hey, nothing a good revolution in the streets can't fix. We're up for it!