One of the key skills I try to impart and model as a tutor of literary studies is close-reading technique; looking closely at a text and slowing down and magnifying its linguistic features, so that the smallest of effects can be examined and interpreted, considered and held still, enabling a looking under and around its features. By drawing new lines between a set of minute effects a reader can begin to lever a text open to produce or discover how its formal characteristics force themselves on its significations: how form and meaning entwine and ramify.

Close-reading—slowing, magnifying, seeking depth in and layers of meaning—is to some extent a secularization of biblical study where allegorical meanings and revelation are slowly extracted through opening oneself to the Word. Close-reading privileges the individual text, a solitary reading, poetry, and the transformation of interpretation through repeated encounters with and reflections on the text.

Such skills aim at practising the self as an ethical subject. This technique of self-government (I’m leaning here on Ian Hunter’s notion of English as governmentality) marshals the recognition of formal effects in the text to serve the building of an aesthetically complex ethical position within a specific milieu. The goal of the close-reading is a practice of self which, however much it is ideally solitary, is learnt and supervised in the social scene of the classroom and the tutorial. The sociality of the induction into these techniques points to the institutional and disciplinary frameworks upon which the student uses to climb up or down into the ethical self that the lecturer, writer or tutor is conducting them towards. The various forms of post-colonial literary close-reading techniques, are often modelled as the means into taking up ethical positions on nationalism, racial, ethnicity, empire, history, reconciliation and so on. The recent emergence of so-called animal studies has its close-reading literary component, too. The self that practices close-readings of texts which seek through an engagement with levels of such texts’ formal features to locate an ethical position on ‘animals’ (I put this term in inverted commas because I like Timothy Morton‘s substitute term for animals: strange strangers), is similarly a self seeking reconciliation within a milieu where food, environment, extinction, ecology and so on become the rationalities within and through which the self is to be governed.

Recently, there has been a move away from the practices of close-reading. This shift has been brought about by a sense that the psychoanalytic model, in which a deeper allegorical meaning—whether this be one of liberatory pleasure or contradiction—could be uncovered and made available to an ethical-political movement or project, has been narrowly fixated on individual texts and has proven inadequate to the materiality of a literary history interested in what and how people were reading, rather than focused on new close-readings of singular texts. This shift away from literary close-reading towards the type of materialism and empiricism sought in such re-emergent and new studies as history of the book, publishing histories, and data analysis, can be understood as a consequence of the repositioning of literariness—literary value, English as governmentality—within cultural and historical sociology.

An interesting development in the shift away from close-reading is of course Franco Moretti’s practice of distant reading. Although this term encompasses a range of practices, all of which might not be worthy of the term distant, the key characteristics of Moretti’s project are the visual presentation of data sets, such as bar graphs of the rise and fall of novel sub-genres over centuries, and a model of history taken from Darwin’s theory of evolution. Moretti is interested in both the rise and fall of species of literary form over long periods of time and in the emergence of morphological innovations, such as free-indirect-discourse. Ultimately, his interest in Darwinising literary history is aimed at positioning it alongside, or as a way into, historical sociology. Literary value thus becomes a contingent social institution that can itself be studied historically (as Bourdieu does in The Rules of Art); literary form and literary product are thereby not the means to an exemplary ethical-aesthetics but provide one way among many into an historical sociology.

But does this recent shift away from close-reading into the new empiricism spell the end for the slow, magnifying allegorical reading practices that dominated not only the New Criticism but also Theory’s various branches? I don’t think so. And my reasons for maintaining that close-reading skills are still valuable, although they need to be accompanied by distant reading and new empirical methods, are based on the demands of the present and the possibility that these might be met, even in some minor way, by literary product. In particular, I think that the conjuncture of political and ecological forces acting on the Darwinian turn in Moretti’s practices of literary history are also calling out for literary texts which narrativise and give form to a thinking together of individual human experience and history (which is the forte of novels and poetry), species experience and history and natural experience and history. I am taking my cues here from Dipesh Chakrabarty’s recent essay on historical practice in the face of climate change, where Chakrabarty argues that once you accept anthropogenic climate change and the force of human activity on climate, you will be ready to periodise the current condition of the earth as the anthropocene. Moving on from the holocene, the anthropocene is when human species activity is no longer simply performed on the earth as though on a natural, enduring stage, but is reshaping the stage in fundamental ways we can’t predict the consequences of.

Chakrabarty’s essay is a set of reflections on the consequences of such conclusions for history and historical understanding. He argues that once you accept these two propositions, the boundary between human and natural history collapses. He also claims that the history of capital is necessary but not sufficient for explaining climate change and what might be done to mitigate or control it. Most significantly for the discussion of literary history and close-reading advanced above is Chakrabarty’s lament for the lack of a way of breaching the lacuna or gap between the experiential historical understanding that most human history and, I would argue, literary narrative offers us, and the ‘sublime’ time-frames and scope of species history: a history which is tied, now, to geological phenomena and time.

This gap is, as Chakrabarty observes in his essay, one that has urgent political consequences. Climate scientists convinced of AGW (anthropogenic global warming), who are specialists in so-called natural history, have yet to find a popular cultural form through which their explanations can work alongside and with the phenomenological experience that is the basis of human understanding. In the language of Hans Gadamer’s hermeneutics, Chakrabarty argues that historical understanding comes from relating our individual experience to that of others, whereas historical explanation arises from empirical and quantitative data. In terms of the urgent problem of climate change, interpretation and explanation are incommensurable and thus responses to climate change are open to dissembling and populist denial. To take one example, our quotidian experience is of weather rather than climate (which, as Tim Morton explains, is a derivative of weather in the same manner that acceleration if a derivative of velocity), so when the daily experience of weather points to no serious change, people are inclined to treat climate science sceptically. Another problem is that the tone of urgency cannot match the slower durations of climate change, leading people to dismiss climate science as alarmist.

I think these problems of the distinction between understanding and explanation and incommensurable histories and experiences in the face of climate change, have a homologue in the current shifts in practices of close- and distant-reading in literary studies. The search for and practices of a new empiricism in literary studies are driven perhaps by a drive toward historical explanation: a seeking out of the forces and matter that shaped reading, book industry and book culture. There is in some new empiricism a sense that the scales of literary studies have been so heavily tipped toward the politics of textuality and close-reading in the twentieth century that such practices can be left aside and surmounted without overbalancing the other way. But I think it is the pressure of the present in literary studies that calls for close reading. The literary imagination might be moribund, but if no one is reading its contemporary instances closely, how would we know?

This post is going somewhere! And that is towards the next post in which I’m going to apply some of Chakrabarty’s ideas to Andrew McGahan’s latest novel Wonders of a Godless World. My claim in this reading will be that the novel is an interesting attempt to bridge the gaps between human individual, human species and geological time. How successful this attempt is I’m still working through, but I think McGahan’s novel can be read through Chakrabarty’s recent essay so as to think both texts in interesting ways. In particular, I’m interested in trying on the notions of the geological sublime in relation to Wonders.


Economic rationalism and Neoliberalism


The post-war commitment to full employment using Keynesian techniques of macro-economic government, kept the Labourist-Social-liberal armature in place and turning until 1973-74 when a coincidence of high inflation and high unemployment contradicted the Keynesian expectation of either high inflation or high unemployment (Brennan and Pincus: 67-68, Rowse, 2003). To extend the figure of the armature, we could say that in 1973-4 the field against which the armature turned had altered. This field is the political economy which in 1973-4 had begun to shift toward a more financialized, networked, and flexible system. The functioning of the Keynesian mode of government began to burn out: the fiscal management of demand operated in and around a reconfiguring field that no longer responded to these techniques of economic government. In Australia the Labourist-Social-liberal armature began to unwind.

As the field shifted new forms of political culture emerged to take advantage of these new conditions in the global political economy. During the long Labor decade one of these forms was named economic rationalism and subjected to a sustained critique led by the Habermasean sociologist Michael Pusey. Pusey’s critique has been mentioned in the thesis introduction: Ian Syson in his essay on Grunge fiction wrote about a “growing rationalist spirit [that] has moved into place in Australian cultural policy,” while for Meaghan Morris Pusey’s argument that economic rationalism recasts “”society as the object of politics” and thus as “some sort of stubbornly resisting sludge””confirms her theory of the abjected waste that the ecstasy of this discourse produces (Syson 25, Morris, 1998: 180).

For Beilharz, Pusey’s 1991 work is the “single most important critical event” in reading the arguments about corporatism in the long Labor decade (1994: 160). He reads Pusey’s book as a social democratic moral critique of the colonisation of the lifeworld by senior Canberra Treasury and Finance bureaucrats who had been university-trained to analyse society through the narrow grid of economic rationality (160). The problem was a “surplus economisation”, rather than a post-war public service focus on politics and society (160). Glossing Pusey, Beilharz argues that ”[t]he problem with markets was that their advocates refused to recognise that they might have limits, that monopoly markets, say, for health care or education were likely to return us to laissez faire, the two nations and implicitly, to increased levels of social and personal violence in everyday life” (160-61). Beilharz finds Pusey’s book has an “implicit nostalgia. Post-war reconstruction, Chifley, Curtin, Coombs and Whitlam seem here to stand in for Australia’s Golden Age” but the core reading he extracts from Economic Rationalism in Canberra is its portrayal of “the general cultural sense that Labor’s century is over [and] that the slide is now largely complete from social liberalism back to economic liberalism” (161).

Pusey’s Habermasean analysis sees the bureaucratic and economic “steering media” that shape, and “colonize the lifeworlds” of everyday Australians, as forces rather than also discourses (Johnson, 2000: 113, 115). For Carol Johnson, his reading of economic rationalism largely abjures the idea that what is considered economic is cultural or textual as much as it is material, or a steering medium that colonises the communicative rationality possible only in the lifeworld (112, 114-5). Thus Pusey writes:

the claim is no longer that the state must ‘get out of the way’ to enhance the steering capacity of the economy but rather that politics, administration, and all the resources of the state shall be mobilised instead to liquefy, dissolve, and instrumentalise every aspect of the lifeworld (including political citizenship, identity, autonomy, responsibility, freedom, and culture) which still resists the external logic of ‘incentivation’ administered from the top down through an internationalisation of totalitarian ‘business democracy’. (Pusey, 1991: 240-241)

Pusey’s is an near Gothic characterisation of vampiric steering media that double-team the almost pure and innocent lifeworld. This alarming characterisation of economic rationalism raises the stakes in finding the right response to Pusey’s theory. Yet these stakes are predicated on a particular temporality and a liberal spatialisation of the spheres of activity. This temporality assumes that the capitalist market is always protean and destructive and that we who reside in the lifeworld face it either with or without state-based protections. Under the rule of economic rationalism we are once again without armature: the stubbornly resisting sludge that economic rationality must drive through in its quest for growth and efficiency. His spatialisation is constructed on spheres and forms of subjectivity which are presented as pre-existing their interaction rather than being formed in relation, or through liberalism itself. Civil society is positioned as being formed separate to the state and the markets, rather than emerging with them.

Both Pusey and Beilharz raise an ambivalence in the reading of the long Labor decade. Was economic rationalism a return to a less protected state of capitalist modernity, a slide from Labourism back to economic liberalism? In other words do we read the period as the final removal and dismantling of the armature – the last remnants of the institutions and commitments of New Protection – that had been put in place by the agents of labour and the New (Social-) Liberalism in the early twentieth century? Effectively, is the long decade the return to the conditions of the 1880s or 1920s when markets ruled and working people had only the same liberal protections as their employers? In some ways the temporal logic of Pusey’s, and even Beilharz’s, argument is to answer yes to these questions: capitalism is the horizon of modern civilisation and it can always be relied on to be protean and destructive.  In this view Labor’s deregulation of financial and labor markets during the long decade pulled the state back and out of those areas that Labourism and Social-liberalism had for much of the twentieth century sought to govern and regulate. But to what extent is this ostensible deregulation actually another type of regulation? To what degree is capitalism less a protean, cyclic Gothic monster than something that emerges new from its periodic crises and emerges with new political cultures by its side?


In a 1995 review of Beilharz’s Transforming Labor Carol Johnson wonders “what use Beilharz might have made of more recent Foucauldian approaches to issues of political economy and governmentality” (102). In Governing Change: from Keating to Howard Johnson reaches back through the Howard Coalition Government into the Keating-led period of the long Labor decade and approaches this approximately nine-year period through a range of analytic methods including Foucauldian ones. She sees the rise of Australian Neoliberalism less in terms of an ideology which presents itself as the necessary withdrawal of the state through such practices as “privatisation, deregulation, free-markets and the increasing role of the private-sector” than it emerging through “other forms of state activity” including “shaping and influencing the behaviour of its citizens, encouraging new forms of self-managing and self-regulating behaviour by individuals and relying on the disciplinary power of the market to influence citizen behaviour” (2000: 100). Considering that it is only recently that Foucault’s lectures on German and American Neoliberalism were published in English it is not surprising to find that definitions of Neoliberalism rarely countenance Foucault’s concept that it is also a political rationality rather than just an ideology about market freedom and that it is a form of governmentality that changes the techniques by which states and individuals govern and are governed (Foucault, 2008: 215-38). The advantage of this approach is that it sets aside the claims of an ideological focus and critique in order to track the reasoning or rationality upon which government practices are based. Such an approach uncovers the view that

contemporary forms of liberalism differ from earlier forms in that they do not see the market as already existing in some natural form but as something that government needs to actively construct through establishing particular political, legal and institutional conditions. The state is then faced with the additional dilemma of needing to encourage the development of the particular forms of ‘autonomous’ and ‘free’ individuals that neo-liberal styles of government depend upon, given that liberal sovereignty in general takes a less directly coercive form than more authoritarian forms of rule. (Johnson, 2000: 102)

This is an argument which seeks to explicate the ‘Neo’ in Neoliberalism. A complementary historical argument is that the target of Neoliberalism in many countries was the Social-liberal techniques that were instituted through Keynesian practices in the post-war period until the early 1970s. ‘Neo’ refers to the specific nature of this historically recent object of critique; a critique which projects itself along the well-worn liberal path of “governing too much” but which, because of its Keynesian and Social-liberal object, can be called New (Foucault, 2008: 319).

Johnson sees Neoliberal governmentalities operating during the long Labor decade in the project of identity construction and thereby behavioural ‘encouragement’: “[i]n the Keating [G]overnment’s practice, governmentality took the form of attempting to construct a range of identities in ways that are compatible with Labor’s conceptions of reconstructing the Australian economy” (2000: 104).


With the end of the Bretton Woods Financial System in 1973 and the OPEC Oil Shocks of that period, a new global political economy based more around finance and credit emerged out of the long post-war economic boom. This new political economy now longer responded in predictable ways to Keynesian fiscal macro-economic management, which effectively begun to break down and was replaced by monetarism, the pressure to produce budget surplus, and a roll-back of welfare state measures. In Australian the Labourist-Social-liberal armature that had generated, protected and produced the core national character in the form of the industrial citizen-subject during the post-war period, no longer functioned properly due to the changing political economic field. There was, however, a belief that the Labourist industrial citizen could re-form, or even mature into the Neoliberal citizen. Indeed, as we will consider below, alongside this belief, was a textualisation of this reform and coming-of-age. Before we arrive these narrativisations and textualisation of the long Labor decade, it is worth making this argument clear.

Beilharz argues that as the conditions of the global political economy began to profoundly shift it was Labor and Labourism that led the process of modernisation. But rather than see this process as a substitution of Labourist for Neoliberal forms of government, or one of letting the market rip, analysis of the textuality of the long Labor decade reveals instead, that the disarticulation of Labourism from the Labourist-Social-liberal armature involved a narrativisation of the Labourist attributes of the national character This narrativisation, while complex, was in some ways simply the emplotment of this Labourist national character into a coming-of-age structure. Analysis of what the characteristics of the adult formation were and how this formation was to be achieved reveals that how Neoliberalism happened in Australia was, in part, through the coming-of-age of the Labourist industrial citizen as the Neoliberal citizen. This textualisation of the long Labor decade, however, will be more properly the subject of the later parts of this chapter. It is to discussion and consideration of the textualisation of the loss of Whitlam and Whitlamism that the thesis now turns.

Some writing below from the dissertation/ PhD thesis that is being speedily revised after being examined. This is the lead up to a set of non-fictional text readings of the Australian long Labor decade (1983-96). Comments appreciated.

Coming to terms with the long Labor decade



Fundamental to a consideration of the periodisation of the long Labor decade is the middle term: Labor and its discourse Labourism. Australian Labourism is a central discursive, ideological, cultural and institutional form of twentieth-century Australian political culture. The cultural and post-colonial projects of the second Keating Government (1993-96) are certainly important but they sit uneasily within those currents of Labor traditions that form around industrial issues and events. Beilharz writes that “[h]istorically [. . .] labourism kept returning as the more durable core of the Australian left. This may reflect its practicability; it also suggests, in one sense, that a weaker distinction than that firmly drawn between socialism and labourism might be appropriate, for labourism after all is also a kind of socialism” (1994: 38). But if labourism is a kind of socialism it is “the Australian version of those kinds of socialist reformism which construct socialism as a variation on capitalist civilisation rather than its negation. It is this longer, mainstream labour tradition which is now at risk” (38).

The gap between the discourse of socialism, as the negation of capitalism, and Labourism is made more explicit in Jim Hagan’s The History of the A.C.T.U., where he argues that

[t]he tenets of Labourism were White Australia, Tariff Protection, compulsory arbitration, strong unions, and the Labor party. White Australia kept out Asiatics who threatened the standard of living and the unions’ strength; tariff protection diminished unemployment and kept wages low; compulsory arbitration restrained the greedy and unfair employer; a strong union movement made it [. . .] possible to enhance and supplement arbitration’s achievements; and Labor Government made sure that no one interfered with these excellent arrangements. (1981: 14)[i]

Similar to Hagan, Frank Bongiorno sees the articulation of trade unions to the ALP as the central mechanism of Labourism:

[t]he idea that an independent Labor Party, supported by a strong trade union movement, should seek a redistribution of wealth in favour of the working class through the parliamentary system [and this] has been a tenet to which any activist working in the Labor Party has had to subscribe. It meant that socialism had to be a gradual affair because Labor sought to achieve its aims through popularly elected parliaments. (“Labourism”)

More succinctly, Beilharz writes that it is “the ideology, or better, the culture of the labour movement as it is articulated politically” (1994: 36). Ralph Miliband argues that its ideology resides in core demands that are industrial first, and social second:

Labourism is above all concerned with the advancement of concrete demands of immediate advantage to the working class and organised labour wages and conditions of work; trade union rights, the better provision of services and benefits in the field of health, education, housing, transport, family allowances, unemployment benefits, pensions and so on. (cited in Beilharz, 1994: 36)

Rob Watts defines Labourism so nebulously that it appears as an orientation towards the state that the social movement formed out of Trade Unionists uses to enact claims solely for improving their material conditions. For Watts, Labourism is merely “a strategy of using the state to advance the interests of the workers, deploying whatever political and discursive material is to hand” (52).

Labourism is thereby a flexible set of practices, institutional relationships and ways of making meaning that articulates the labour movement to the Labor Party and both to the apparatuses of the state in the interests of improving material working rewards and conditions as a first measure, and in gaining social goods and conditions as a second goal. One key question of the long Labor decade for Beilharz was whether or not Labourism was flexible enough a discourse to weather the dismantling of Hagan’s first three tenets without becoming empty and ceasing to be a source of tradition which could be drawn on to generate a political culture capable of participating in shaping the political economy (Beilharz, 1994 4-5). Furthermore, could Labourism still be said to be active in Australian political culture once the ‘protection’ that it had struggled to institute was disappearing? (3) Was Australian Labourism during the long Labor decade so discredited that it was unable to re-vitalise by re-articulating to formations on its Left and even Right wings? If there was a emptying of Labor tradition, as Beilharz argues, then was this disposal to be rued considering that Australian Labourism had been racist and heavily biased against equal opportunities for women for much of its existence? (McQueen, 2004: 30-44, Sawer: 2003b: 373-75). Was Labourism flexible enough a discourse to be modernised without being entirely lost?

Beilharz’s Transforming Labor is a long, mournful and sometimes melancholic argument against such effective flexibility not because Labourism is not a flexible discourse but because the political economy upon which it functioned no longer existed in 1994. Beilharz’s argument in Transforming Labor is that Australian Labourism is a species of the discourses of modernity, and like modernity comprises an interconnected series of Janus-faces: Social-Liberal with socialist; backward-looking Romantic with forward-looking modernist; statist with civic; and utopian with pragmatic (##). Of course, Beilharz’s judgement about the culture-political economy relationship in Labourism is not to be taken uncritically. If the Hawke-Keating Government fundamentally altered the governance and shape of the Australian political economy then how are we to assess the degrees and origins of what determined these changes: were such governing changes inevitable considering the shifts in geopolitics and global finance and trade capitalism, or were they contingent and driven by nationally immanent cultural, social and political forces? Was Labourism a large ensemble of traditional forms and principles, utopias and pragmatic alliances, or did it possess a hard core of central tenets that if refused or negated would empty the ‘tradition’ to the point that it could no longer be meaningfully drawn on? Where does Labourism fit into narratives of the long decade? Was Labourism, as a set of principles and traditions, fundamentally recast by the Hawke-Keating Government? Was there a betrayal of a socialist or social democratic project, or were the accusers nostalgic for, or melancholy about, a type of Labourism that had never existed, except as hope and oppositional critique? These are all difficult questions which will be addressed throughout the thesis. The beginnings of an answer, however, requires shifting our focus to the discourse to which Labourism was articulated through long periods of the twentieth century: Social-liberalism.


The re-discovery of social-liberalism by political historians like Marian Sawer, and indeed cultural historians like Mark Davis, points to the recent sense of the loss of the classical liberalism against which social-liberalism first emerged through its critique of classical liberalism’s belief in contract and atomistic individualism (Sawer, 2003 9, Davis 2007). She argues that Social-liberalism’s core commitment is the ethical use of the state’s apparatus to promote a positive, rather than negative, freedom in light of the failure of contractual liberalism: “[t]he social liberals did not seek the abolition of the market economy but believed that it must be subordinated to the democratic state which put the welfare of its citizens before the sanctity of contract and the rights of property” (4). For Sawer, the roots of twentieth century Social-Liberalism lie in a “reinterpretation” “of [t]he central value of liberty” “in terms of the opportunity for self-development rather than freedom of contract”:

[t]he state has the capacity and the duty to remove constrictions such as those caused by lack of education, poor health and bad housing, and to promote the positive liberty of the individual; this had priority over rights of property of sanctity of contract. [ . . .] [T]he state was no longer seen simply in terms of its role as law enforcer and upholder of contracts but, rather, in terms of its ethical mission in nurturing the development of its citizens. (10-11)

There is some debate over the distinction between social liberalism and social democracy as terms describing consistent ideological theories which produce policies based on sets of commitments, explanations and understandings. In the Western European sense social democracy is often associated with the German SDP of the Weimar Republic which, under Eduard Bernstein, while aiming to arrive at socialism (a non-capitalist social system and political economy) was in no hurry to get there[ii]. What is important in the Australian context, however, is that while there have been moments of social democratic Government – Whitlam’s project aimed at a form of social democracy through nationalising medicine and higher education, and the Chifley Government sought to nationalise the banks – the dominant social form of political discourse has been social liberalism, or what was called New Liberalism. Tim Rowse argues that

[l]iberty in the ‘New Liberalism’ became closely identified with individual welfare, and the maintenance of civic freedom with the maintenance of class harmony and consent. The ideology of the Australian working class in the political sphere has been a reformism which sits quite comfortably within this doctrine. Concessions to working-class power have continued to take the form of enlargement of the ‘neutral’ state’s judicial and welfare functions. (1978: 9)

Although no longer dominant, as it was in the immediate post-Federation period, Social-liberalism survived throughout much of the post-war period. There was under Menzies a sustained attack on the social dimensions of citizenship directed through his cold war demonising of labourism and indeed of Labor as the party of authoritarian collectivism (Brett, 1992: 33-35, Capling 124-25). [iii] Judith Brett has analysed the techniques of Menzies’ rhetorical attack on Labourism and her influential reading is that it interpellated citizens as the bearers of moral status based on the free conduct of family-centred individuals in the intimate-domestic and civil spheres (Brett, 2003: 123). Brett argues that Menzies centred his rhetoric on the space of the domestic home because “[a]s a symbol of a full experience of individuality, the home stands in opposition not just to the depersonalised world of work but to all aspects of modern life which seem to diminish the individual’s sense of agency” (1992 46-7). While Labor’s vision of citizenship was to be realized through “labour force participation [f]or Menzies [. . .] the self-sufficiency of home-making, not work per se, was ultimately the process of social integration—citizenship as home ownership” (Capling 125). The conditions of home ownership, and the Australian dream, were tied into the post-war boom and the social-liberal Keynesian techniques of government that managed the economy during this period. Thus the survival of Social-liberalism through the Menzies period can be seen, as Stuart Macintyre argues, in the fact that ‘[u]nder the leadership of Robert Menzies, [the Liberal] party accepted the responsibilities of government to maintain full employment, provide social welfare, and enhance opportunity’ (‘Liberalism’ 392). These ‘responsibilities’ are in line with the social liberal belief ‘that the democratic state could and should play a central role in providing its citizens with equal opportunity for self-development’ (Sawer, 2003: 9). We can therefore see the Menzies period as one in which Social-liberalism, while under significant rhetorical and policy attack, remains central to the techniques of governing the political economy. It might be the case that the commitment to full employment was less an ideological one than merely an unexpected consequence of the post-war boom. Nevertheless, such a policy commitment guided the behaviour of the Menzies Government and this, combined with its acceptance of Arbitration and tariff protection, indicates that Menzies’ conservatism was articulated to Social-liberal beliefs and practices (## Rowse – Capling?).

Indeed, the post-Depression social-liberal Keynesian system of demand-side macro-economic government was articulated to a limited version of a Fordist political economy, to the limited provision of welfare services and Arbitration Court decisions in an assemblage of governmentalities in the post-World War Two period that strongly embedded Social-liberal rationalities and practices within post-war Australian political culture. In the post-war period until 1973-74 this assemblage created a stable forcefield. Social-liberalism’s imbrication with Labourism can be seen, for Sawer, in “[t]he nature of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), as the most important vehicle of social liberalism for much of the twentieth century” (7-8). Spinning like an electric armature Labourism and Social-liberalism together used the energy of the post-war boom to generate the basis on which fundamental political and cultural forms continued to be produced, protected and take shape. To come to terms with the long Labor decade we also need to analyse this central articulation of the post-war period as the effects of its attenuation from the early 1970s resounded through the long Labor decade.

 The Labourist-Social liberal armature[iv]

 Australian Labourism was primarily articulated to Social-liberalism throughout the twentieth century. This armature generated, protected and provided the framework for fashioning the white male productive wage earner as the citizen-subject and thereby primary object of government. It was both a complex structure of feeling centred around the concepts of protection and the just wage, and the driver for a set of institutional tools – centrally the Arbitration Court – and, during the post-war period, increasingly those utilities that provided education, health, and housing services through the welfare state, during the post-war period.

The Arbitration Court was the key state institution which both directed energy into the armature and was in turn driven by it. The court was given dynamic institutional weight through the Harvester decision made by the head of the court Social-liberal Henry Higgins who, in 1907, judged that employers should pay wages according to the need of the male employee in so far as such need was measured not on the bases of an employer’s capacity to pay but rather on the basis of what a nuclear family required to live reasonably: the living wage (Sawer 58-9, Castles, 2002: 44). [v] Sawer calls this decision “the defining event of Australian social liberalism” (58).

The establishment of this court and the Harvester decision might sound like distant, minor events in the long Labor decade, but any sense of the depth of change in the long Labor decade must account for the loss that the evacuation of the commitment to this institution wrought. Combined with the social-liberal practices of Keynesian government which dominated the post-World War II period until 1973-74 and which were articulated also to the institutions of the “New Protection” – tariffs and racially based labour migration limits – the Arbitration Court’s governance of social citizenship through industrial techniques melded Labourist and Social-Liberal tenets into a forcefield that established a hegemony surviving numerous challenges until the 1970s when it began to break down.[vi]

Higgins’ 1907 Harvester Judgement and its significance for the long Labor decade was seen in the choice of H R. Nicholls for the name of a political society whose main goal was to “promote a debate on industrial relations and to promote the system’s reform”: meaning to expunge the Arbitration Court and thereby this central institution of the Labourist-Social-liberal armature from Australian political culture (Castles, 2002: 43 and Kelly, 1994: 253, 260-2). Nicholls was editor of the Hobart Mercury newspaper and won a contempt of court case against Higgins after labelling Higgins “a political judge” in 1911 (“Nicholls, Henry Richard”, Nicholls cited in Kelly, 1994: 260). A group of businessmen, lawyers, academics, intellectuals and politicians formed this New Right society in 1986; its invitation to join was co-signed by future federal Liberal Party treasurer and deputy leader Peter Costello, and it read in part: “[w]e would probably have to go back to the early days of Federation, and the debates leading up to the passing of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, to find a precedent for this debate” (cited in Kelly 260). Ironically, Costello held the federal lower house seat named after Nicholls’ enemy, and it was Costello who earned his New Right political reputation as an industrial barrister in the Dollar Sweets case where common law was successfully used to break a union strike in 1985 (Kelly, 1994: 258). This case and others like it weakened the power of the Arbitration Commission and the Unions (255-9).

This movement in the long decade away from the institutions and forms of the armature struck at the core political arrangements that had provided the protective forcefield and framework for much of Australia’s post-federation history. These arrangements have been described by Francis Castles as composing a “wage-earner’s welfare state” (Castles, 1994: 8). Castles’ conception of what I have termed the armature is, for Beilharz, based on “the relative strength of the local labor movement, linked together with a largely economic or material conception of wellbeing, [which] saw the development of political and welfare arrangements which functioned primarily in the interests of men as workers rather than of citizens as such” (Beilharz, 1994: 7).

Castles has four axioms for the Australian wage-earners’ welfare state:

occupational welfare has been more important than state expenditure [;] collective saving for social security provision has been outweighed by private saving for owner-occupied housing [ ;] the preferred model of social services financing has been progressive taxation [; and] women have had a different and lesser status than men. (12-15)

He argues that it survived into the 1980s despite the changes to its central axioms that the social movement for women’s equality, the collapse of the White Australia policy and the diminution of the role of wage regulation all brought (16). Castles notes that while “the Whitlam government flirted with more European notions of social insurance as well as beginning Australia’s disengagement from high levels of tariff protection,” the “post-tax dispersion of male wages from employment as egalitarian as any in the advanced world” remained a central pillar of the wage-earners’ welfare state into the mid-1980s (16).

Writing on what he calls “the Labor decade” he declares any interpretation of Labor’s impact in the area of Social protection to be “paradoxical” as the government’s “policy activism” promoted managerial and economic rationalist techniques in administration which did little to change the “policy norms” in the area of social protection (17). Castles argued that Hawke-Keating Labor adapted rather than overturned the wage-earners’ welfare state, with the reintroduction of universal health care and introduction of the S.G.C (Superannuation Guarantee Charge) being cases of social and industrial citizenship respectively (21). Yet the living standards of average wage earners over the Labor decade, which in a wage-earners’ welfare state must be the prime metric, decreased, the use of the Arbitration Court decreased and the financialisation of the Australian economy produced other forms of market-based income than wage-earning ones (22-23). The key change, though, is in the loss of male full-time jobs due to the steady increase of female labour force participation and to changes in manufacturing brought about by “structural reforms,” striking at the central pillar of the wage-earners’ welfare state: protection of the white wage-earning male (22).

While Castles sees the wage-earners’ welfare state as being “refurbished” rather than demolished his 1994 essay is not interested in the regimes and techniques by which citizen-subjects are themselves refurbished (25). In order to enter this characteristic of the Labourist-Social Liberal armature, and to begin to analyse how citizen-subjects were being reshaped and re-sculpted in the long Labor decade we need to consider industrial citizenship, next.

 Industrial citizenship

 In Australia, after a brief flourishing of social-liberal views of citizenship [. . .] labourism became a dominant cultural ethos in the 1950s. As a result, industrial citizenship came to be substituted for social citizenship in Australia. Workers were identified as citizens, citizens as workers; to the exclusion of those who were deemed less socially useful. The more open-ended social-liberal conception of citizenship reappeared momentarily under Whitlam, only to wither under Keating.

(Beilharz, 1993: 113)


In a discussion in his book Citizenship and Civil Society, Thomas Janoski theorises the concept of the “development of the citizen-self” (92). He argues that the self is born and develops into pre-existing structures and practices of rights and duties exchange with other selves, collectives, and the state: “[c]itizens form a self-concept in relation to the state with its rights and obligations, which they express to others” (93). For Janoski the formation of the citizen-self will

emerge out of [a childhood and adolescent] dependent position to engage in various types of exchange [. . .] The rational being, making calculations independent of all persons and institutions, is perhaps the furthest from the actual development of citizenship that one can imagine. And to a large degree adolescents and young adults are doing their utmost to construct a viable self at this time that will take rights and obligations into account. This self ultimately intervenes between rational calculations and action. (92)

The development of the citizen-self, or the citizen-subject, occurs within and through institutional and discursive structures and practices which shape both a being and a becoming-self. The physically developing proto-citizen-self, experienced in childhood and adolescence, is guided to form as the citizen-subject that the dominant political culture takes as its core subjectivity. The citizen-subject is both a status – that is recognised – and a narrative, or temporal becoming – a subject that seeks to be recognised, or that seeks to participate in exchanges that are currently denied or prevented. The citizen-subject is Janus-faced: it faces inward toward feelings and beliefs about status, aspiration, resentments and envy, love and fellowship; and it faces outwards towards the redistributions and exchanges that occur in the private-market, public and state spheres. The citizen-subject is a fusion of practices and forms of thought that is interpellated by discourses. This formation will be historically specific and there will be dominant formations, especially ones that tie it to national character. In Australia, for much of the post-war period, the primary citizen-subject was the industrial citizen (Beilharz, 1993a: 113, Pixley 128-29, Watts 47).


Industrial citizenship is granted a minor status in T.H Marshall’s influential theory and history of citizenship. In this anglo-centric theory and history the attainment of civil rights, in the eighteenth century, is followed by the expansion of political rights, in the nineteenth, which are both complemented in the twentieth century by the social rights that arrive with greatest force through the Keynesian welfare state (Marshall 27-8, Janoski 32). The right to bargain collectively through trade unions for improved pay and conditions at work operates for Marshall through “a secondary system of industrial citizenship parallel with and supplementary to the system of political citizenship” (44).

Marshall’s position on industrial citizenship, however, has been critiqued (Fudge 635). Jack Barbalet observes that “[i]t is particularly odd [. . .] that ‘industrial rights’ are mentioned by Marshall in his account of the development of modern citizenship, but are not included by him as an authentic component of [it] along with civil, political and social rights” (22). Marshall subsumes industrial to civil rights and for Barbalet this is problematic as civil rights are individual, and not collective rights, whereas industrial rights “are not individualistic” and through their exercise via trade union collectives “can only function properly if the rights of their individual members are subordinate to the rights of the collectivity” (26). By this reasoning industrial citizenship is a primary category of citizenship and, writing in 1988, Barbalet argued that this primacy is also supported by a “body of legislation in all advanced capitalist countries which in fact does confer industrial rights” (25-6). Indeed, in Australia in 1988 the body of legislation supporting these rights, while waning, were still part of the Labourist-Social Liberal armature.

For Colin Crouch industrial citizenship is “the acquisition by employees of rights within the employment relationship, rights which go beyond, and are secured by forces external to, the positions which employees are able to win purely through, labour market forces” (cited in Fudge 636). And for Barbalet these rights are based on

a status limiting the commodification of persons in employment and therefore includes the right to influence the terms of employment, the conditions of work and the level of pay, and is therefore also the right to develop and sustain the independent means of achieving these things through the organization of combinations or unions. (Barbalet 26)

The Australian post-war Labourism-Social liberalism armature generated, protected and provided the framework for industrial citizenship, forming a world and citizen-subjects that share much with those living within what Gramsci’s called Fordism. David Harvey defines the Fordist “regime of [capital] accumulation” as that particular “body of interiorized rules and social processes” in which “complex interrelations, habits, political practices, and cultural forms” enact a “mode of regulation” based on a “tense but firm balance of power [. . .] between organized labour, large corporate capital, and the nation state (1990: 126, 122, 133). For Harvey “[p]ostwar Fordism has to be seen [. . .] less as a mere system of mass production and more as a total way of life. Mass production meant standardization of product as well as mass consumption; and that meant a whole new aesthetic and a commodification of culture” (135). The Labourist-Social Liberal armature and its primary form of citizenship – the industrial citizen – were well suited to take advantage of similar conditions in the period of the post-war boom as the Australia Government, like many others, “engineered both stable economic growth and rising material living standards through a mix of welfare statism, Keynesian economic management, and control over wage relations” (Harvey 135, Capling 8-11).

Employing the term citizenship, alongside my use of the terms Labourism and Social-liberalism, enables a line of connection to be drawn between the concept of Fordism and the rights and duties bearing and practising subject – the citizen. The discourse of citizenship, while varied, brings with it the presence of state and subjects. As this thesis moves between the two tracks of the literary and political fields, and shuttles over interdisciplinary boundaries, the presence and forms of the citizen will assist us in keeping track of what, when and where we are moving through. It is, then, important to see the long Labor decade as being also concerned with a reshaping and re-forming of industrial citizenship. When we return to reconsider Grunge fiction in chapter three, and during the reading of Amanda Lohrey’s oeuvre in chapter two, the loss of industrial citizenship and the manner by which it is being re-shaped and reformed during the long Labor decade will provide the grounds for sketching a Janus-faced figure that can be turned either inward to the self or outward to the state; where the public-political forces of the state meet the private-moral desires and feelings of the individual. It is my contention that Grunge fiction and Grunge musical culture can be understood as similar responses to a shared structure of feeling and this structure of feeling is the loss of industrial citizenship in Australia. While in Australia industrial citizenship was articulated to literary-print culture social formations, in America industrial citizenship emerges in articulation to Fordist musical-culture. If, as Morris asserts, “a certain aphasia can follow from the decline of industrial citizenship”, then this thesis aims to produce a literary history that listens to and decodes the feint traces of meaning that are present amidst its loss and the subsequent silence (1998: 203).

One set of terms remains to be introduced, defined and for me to detail how I will subsequently use them in the thesis. These terms are economic rationalism and Neoliberalism.


Economic rationalism and Neoliberalism

[to come. . .]


[i] Three of the five elements in Hagan’s description of Labourism – white Australia, tariff protection, and compulsory arbitration – form the core of Paul Kelly’s influential heuristic the “Australian Settlement,” indicating not only the centrality of Labourism to Australian political culture but also that Hagan and Kelly’s histories are placed on the cusp of fundamental changes to Labourism, and thereby fundamental changes to Australian political culture. While a useful heuristic device, adumbrating five tenets or pillars of a discourse tends to flatten those elements or commitments that resist easy nominalisation.

[ii] Bernstein’s interest in the movement rather than the end of socialism is summed up in his presentism:‘I am not concerned with what will happen in the more distant future, but with what can and ought to happen in the present, for the present and for the nearest future’ (Bernstein cited in Adams and Dyson, 2003: 152).

[iii] Robert Menzies was prime minister of Australia for two periods. The first period is from 1939-41, and the second period is from 1949-66. It is the second post-war period that I refer to as the Menzies period.

[iv] The electro-magnetic connotations of this figure are the main ones I am referring to by using this term. An armature, in the electrical sense, is both what electrical current can pass through to produce motive power or torque, and itself be the receptacle of a rotor’s oscillations through which electrical current is generated (“Armature”). An armature is also the skeletal frame on which sculpturers can build clay or plaster models, and it is another term for armour, the art of protecting with armour and even the apparatus of attack (“Armature”). It is the first meaning that I intend here, but the other meanings are also significant for the textuality of the long Labor decade as will be apparent when Keating ‘s tropes of old and new motors that his government removes and installs, and when Kelly argument about Fortress Australia and its bedrock ideology of protection that is to be dismantled and demolished, are analysed in chapter one.

[v] ‘The ‘living’ wage promised men who had work that they and their families could, under most circumstances, maintain a decent life, one that conformed to the standards of the ‘civilized community’ in which they lived’ (Castles, 2002: 44).

[vi] To the figuring of the Labourist-Social Liberal assemblage as a hegemonic forcefield, or as an armature, can be added the musical-political neologism of a hege-harmonics. What I am attempting to describe with the term Labourist-Social Liberal armature is a combination of political and cultural forms that structure the terms and activities through, within and against which selves become sculpted as citizens, social forms continue and emerge, and techniques of government are practiced. In many ways what I am leaning on here is Foucault’s concept of governmentality, but in Foucault there is little sense that political rationalities can be articulated to others or if they can that they can be described in anything other than Foucault’s highly visual and spatial language. It is the pervasive sense of loss in the non-fiction and indeed fictional textuality of the long Labor decade that requires a conception of what has been lost that moves beyond a naming it governmentality, or a paradigm, as Mark Davis does. The problem with describing the phenomena that has been lost as a paradigm is that it restricts the range of cultural forms that are described by this term to the physical sciences that were the object of Kuhn’s philosophy of the history of science. Again, what gets shunted in this choice of terms is the ear and musical form.

In footnote 1 I noted that harmony has been theorised by Schönberg and Adorno as a synonym for tonality, or music that proceeds on the basis of a scale that orders the possibilities of harmonic construction. Rather than hear the opposite of harmony as its refusal or negation, Adorno argues that the true binary opposition under a system of harmony is consonance-dissonance. The movement beyond harmony is not therefore dis-harmony but rather is atonality: music without a scale. Understood this way the construction of social harmony through the articulation of political discourses such as Labourism to Social-liberalism is less a function of consonance or dissonance than it is of establishing a scale on which dissonance and consonance are actually meaningful and can have material force. By calling the Labourist-Social Liberal armature  a hege-harmonics I am attempting to describe a social forcefield that operates like tonality in music: it is dominant and consented to; it provides the conditions for consent and dissent. I am also attempting to conceptualise the relationship between Labourism and Social-liberalism as one in which the two forces are oscillating to form the conditions of a tonal scale. When this scale begins to breakdown in the early 1970s the oscillations cease to produce a harmony of rhythms and fall into arrhythmia. In chapters two, three and four, the literary readings will pick up on these figures of harmony and arrhythmia as a means to read these texts across to the textuality of the long Labor decade.

Paul Krugman notes that the assets that some, nay many, banks are carrying are being increasingly called ‘toxic’. Adam Kotsko  fleshes out the body-metaphors of economic discourse, writing

I propose that left-wing commentators start characterizing the US economy as cirrhotic. In this analogy, credit is an economic lubricant just as alcohol is a social lubricant. Used in moderation, it can enhance everyone’s experience. The problem is that the economy has been “drinking its dinner” for a long time, and now its financial system — which I guess has to be the “liver” in this analogy — is filled with scar tissue and nodules (”toxic assets”). We need a liver transplant (bank nationalization!) to survive, but we refuse to “go to AA” (admit the banks are insolvent)… Meanwhile, we’ve spent so much money on booze that we can’t afford the four basic food groups (”real economic production”) and have to eat government cheese (”infrastructure make-work projects”), which is giving us diarrhea (”ballooning national debt”)… And to top it all off, the people in charge of the, um, liver are insisting that the real problem is that they just need another drink to steady their nerves and everything will be fine.

That this appears as a travesty indicates how little the metaphors and analogies of economic discourse are explicitly worked through to their logical conclusions. Cyclones, storms, meltdowns, tsunamis. Sclerotic financial systems, hardened arteries. Shitstorms, coughing up blood, gangrenous housing sectors, asthmatic deflation, psoriasis in the current account . . .

Figurative language, however, is preferable to the almost nonsensical phrase “backwards growth” to describe GDP contraction – which was flashed across TV screens during the Australian national broadcaster news the other evening. ‘Always be growing’ it seems, even when such growth is ‘backwards’ or ‘negative’. What would be the opposite: forward contraction, a forward shrinkage?!

Holding the toxic waste that Bank owners claim is not waste at all but is undervalued is a bit like being caught with the brown paper parcel when the music stops. Opening it up you find the shit and piss assets you’d supposedly sold on to some other link in the great financial chain of being in your hands. The music’s stopped and you’re left holding it. According to a growing consensus among economists like Paul Krugman, and economic historians like Niall Ferguson, Governments now need to stop the music and take possession of the brown paper parcels: nationalise the banks. Rather than underwriting the value of the parcel of sludge, or of holding out, via bailouts, for markets to return to positions in which such assets resume their value, Governments need to send  squads into the financial system and take care of the refuse.

A lesson made re-apparent by the climate and financial crises — a connection that also extends into the violence that hovers around state security — is that what is abjected  in order to produce-consume (pollution and excessive debt) goods and identity cannot be cast off without the sludge landing in someone’s lap. This function has a relatively recent cultural form: living with sludge, toxicity and shit is primary to Grunge music and fiction. In Australian Grunge novel Praise (1992), the lead characters both suffer from atopic illnesses: eczema and asthma. Not utopic or dystopic illnesses, but atopic, literally coming from nowhere. Asthma and eczema are deferring and displacing chronic illnesses: the allergy-triggering antigens don’t make direct contact with the organ which displays the symptoms. The illness remains within the field of the individual body, but might not appear until later. Much like toxic assets in the body-economic.

In Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit Cobain roars out his abject selves: “a mulatto, an albino,  a mosquito, my libido.” He can’t cut himself loose from his shames and perversities, his feelings of inauthenticity. He has to live as subject-abject.  Grunge, in literary and musical form, unsettles the boundaries between purity and waste, between self and other, between disease and health. Grunge presents figures who live in proximity to waste, illness, horror. Grunge is the return of the abject, just as toxic assets are the return of finance capital’s abject.

If there is to be a long term solution to the Global climate, security and financial crises then maybe it is to increasingly live in proximity to what we normally defer and displace. Governments might well have to decontaminate banks through nationalisation. How banks, after such a clean-up, conduct their waste-management practices then becomes a critical question.

Jeff Buckley – Sky is a Landfill (audio only)

I wonder what sort of fomative influence the Smiths and Joy Division exerted on Radiohead? From the two 2007 clips below of Radiohead covers of the Smiths’ “The Headmaster Ritual” and Joy Division/ New Order’s “Ceremony” the joy in playing these songs is apparent, at least for Thom Yorke. I’ve got to say that I’d forgotten how catchy a pop song the Smiths tune is, and those Morrisey yodels in the chorus are tailor-made for Yorke.

I suppose the thing to do here would be to compare and contrast — on Ceremony Radiohead’s drummer is less febrile than Joy Division’s Steve Morris,  Morrisey’s miserabilist irony vs Yorke’s more broken-up keen. But just enjoy – Radiohead are having a lot of fun here, and what great songs to reprise.

From The wired via Socializing Finance comes this essay on a formula for disaster.

In finance, you can never reduce risk outright; you can only try to set up a market in which people who don’t want risk sell it to those who do. But in the CDO market, people used the Gaussian copula model to convince themselves they didn’t have any risk at all, when in fact they just didn’t have any risk 99 percent of the time. The other 1 percent of the time they blew up. Those explosions may have been rare, but they could destroy all previous gains, and then some.