John Forbes’s ‘Miraculous Fluidity’

By | 11 April 2016


As unsettling as the open air we arrive at in the wake ‘Anzac Day’ and its superb joke, it is only the quality of the joke that reassures us of a latent future-tense. Note that the joke’s arrival is simultaneous with the emergence of a tacit politics, a politics which not only looks towards a future with works and unions, but more crucially a subjectivity which might be identifiable with such a horizon. Using Philip Mead’s term from a recent essay on the subject of decolonisation in Australian literature, we might call this sphere to which the future subject might belong a ‘postnational’ one (Mead 203). Synthesising Duncan Hose’s concept of Forbes’s model of ‘ideal citizenship’ with Mead, perhaps this subject is a ‘postnational citizen’, one who might, Hose writes, ‘keep our myths close to the surface where they can be interrogated and repeatedly altered’ (Hose 2010: 11). In my view, these speculations come after the operations of the comic mechanism. The miraculous pivot in ‘Anzac Day’, I would call it, is the poem’s enduring memory. The exposure of cultural bankruptcy, the futility of national military citations of culture from the early twentieth century to explain transnational affairs, the hypocrisy of an unselfconscious myth: all fluidly emerge in a still surprising poem which refers us to the mechanism of the comic’s ability to rethink the terms of the cultural sphere. In so doing, these nationally self-conscious poems by John Forbes reveal that significance of the comic wagered by Zupančič mentioned earlier: what emerges is the sphere’s precariousness.

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