At Ginninderra Press's 21st birthday celebration at Collected Works in Melbourne on 1 July 2017, Stephen Matthews launched The Crystal Ballroom by Libby Sommer and Murunna Point Revisited by Ian McFarlane.
On being 21
I’m proud of GP’s coming of age. I’ve put a lot of work and a fair bit of heartache into the last 21 years. In fact, there was so much going on in the press’s earlier days that it was only last year that I got around to putting the GP philosophy into words – it’s on the home page of this website, all 76 words of it. You might say that 76 words aren’t much to show for 21 years but I happen to think those 76 words address some important issues about the culture within which we live.
During the last 21 years we’ve all observed the neo-liberal supremacy that has gripped Western politics since the days of Reagan and Thatcher. You know the symptoms – deregulation, privatisation, austerity, disregard for the environment, closure of community facilities. We’ve seen the stark result recently in events like the Grenfell Towers fire in London.
The neo-liberal supremacy has of course been abetted by the diminishing diversity of voices, particularly local voices, in mainstream media, both print and electronic. Faltering under the drip feed of consumerist mass media, many people have become less engaged in the society around them. They’ve become passive consumers rather than active participants, constantly being fed the message that fame and fortune – usually someone else’s – count more than anything else.
If the owners of corporate mass media (you know who they are) had their way, we wouldn’t gather together as we have today to celebrate the talent of writers like Libby and Ian. And yet, our communities are filled with skilled and talented people – you can be sure there’s one right next to you at this minute. If the owners of corporate mass media had their way, we wouldn’t recognise that active participation in our culture is better for our mental and social well-being than passive consumption of corporate-driven entertainment and diversions. If the owners of corporate mass media had their way, we would be in their thrall, being insidiously lulled into acceptance of the selfish, sterile worldview that furthers their interests while everywhere, small, quirky, distinctive voices are discouraged, sidelined, silenced.
This kind of disengagement simply isn’t healthy for individuals or societies. For individual mental well-being and for general social well-being, people need to participate. For that, people must have opportunities for their voice to be expressed and, even better, to be heard. When they don’t have those opportunities, their disengagement can take on an angry aspect and they can be tempted to see solutions in the ravings of Donald Trump or the incoherence of our own One Nation.
As the Ginninderra Press philosophy suggests, I’ve no intention of accepting a passive role in the life of my chosen country. I’m claiming my right to participate in cultural activity and I’ll continue to help and nurture others who want to do so.
I was fortified in this intent a few months ago, when I read an article in The Age discussing the importance of our having access to a variety of people’s stories rather than just the single story that the voice of power likes to tell. The author of the article, Barbara Chapman, cited an old African proverb: ‘The hunter is glorified because the lion doesn’t have a storyteller.’
In the last few paragraphs of her article, Chapman said,
Although individual lives are complex and multifaceted, they are constantly being homogenised into an all powerful but erroneous single narrative, depending on the viewpoint of opinion leaders. For women, especially, this leads to exceptional personal ability and achievement being frequently eclipsed.
The public domain is peppered with terms such as bleeding heart, disgruntled employee, victimhood, loser and the gamut of political pejoratives. They are vectors of the single story, deeming those people not worth listening to, and unworthy of being shown humanity, fairness and respect.
In the aftermath of World War II, Hannah Arendt wrote that moral imagination requires the broadest possible frames for decision-making, including dissenting opinion, to preserve a society’s ethical standards and safety. We need to hear the voices that demur and to hear from individuals who are commentated on but never able to directly respond and put their point of view across.
As US writer Andrew Solomon says, ’It is nearly impossible to hate anyone whose story you know.’
The single story, and the prejudicial impulses it taps, keep alive forces of dehumanisation that have underwritten extraordinary cruelty throughout history. Yet, it occurs all around us, in the public domain, and social, work and other contexts.
To counter such polarisation, we need stories that present the variety, depth and complexity of individual human beings throughout the public domain. This encourages empathy and understanding, even across deep philosophical divides.
I couldn’t compose a clearer explanation of why I do what I do. I’ve worked hard to make Ginninderra Press a vehicle for the telling of the sort of stories that Barbara Chapman talks about.
If you can write a poem that illuminates a concern that’s commonly neglected, do it. If you can write a story that illuminates an aspect of life – yours or someone else’s – that’s not usually exposed, do it. Don’t let ‘The single story, and the prejudicial impulses it taps, keep alive forces of dehumanisation that have underwritten extraordinary cruelty throughout history.’
Participate in our culture. Shine a light in dark corners.