With the naming of the day of the federal election almost upon us, I resume this column's catchily-titled series Great Works Of Literature To Read During The Election Campaign So As To Block The Banality Of The Election Out While Simultaneously Improving One's Mind.
Commentators are agreed that this election is going to be unusually intelligence-insultingly and soul-bruisingly vulgar.
For the thinking Australian to immerse herself in the day-to-day news coverage of the five-week election campaign will be to place herself in an intellectual gutter running with moral dangers. And so I am suggesting this literary sanctuary within which to shelter for the five malignant weeks (the lies! the hypocrisies! the narcissistic reptilian slitherings of the ambition-crazed!) of the campaign.
I remind readers of my original suggestion of reading Herman Melville's Moby Dick. As well as being colossally wonderful and a book everyone must read one day, it is, at 720 pages and 135 chapters, a full five weeks' worth of reading.
A virtue of it is that almost all of its action takes place aboard a Nantucket whaling ship, the Pequod, at sea. This will give the reader the sense of having sailed away from election-fouled Australia, leaving it out of sight and out of mind.
Then, too, echoing the ways in which the skipper of today's Australia is presently being accused of having "no moral compass" the captain of the Pequod, crazed Ahab, has the most famous obsession-deviated moral compass in all of fiction. The needle of his compass is deviated by the magnetism of the monstrous white whale he feels he must pursue.
As well as Moby Dick, those of us escaping the election might read Coleridge's mighty ballad The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. At 145 stanzas (across the election campaign one could read four morally instructive stanzas a day, at breakfast) it will sustainedly help keep election news at bay.
As well as its brilliance as a yarn, the Rime has the timely environmental theme that we must treat all living things, God's creatures, with love and reverence, or else. The ballad's protagonist shoots and kills a blamelessly beautiful albatross. And thus (spoiler alert) he brings down on himself a world of spiritual woe of the kind one would like to see befall climate-change denying, species-endangering, fossil-fuel championing Australian prime ministers.
My election-deflecting reading will also include a re-reading of Klara and the Sun, the latest novel by Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, the Nobel Laureate (awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017). He is the winner of more literary awards than you have had hot dinners and many, many more literary awards than Scott Morrison has had honourable thoughts.
Ishiguro's Klara and the Sun is an unnerving story of how Klara, a robot Artificial Friend (AF) has so many "human" qualities that we find ourselves worrying-wondering if there is anything about humans that differentiates us from bot-machines.
Do humans really have souls? Perhaps not. Do AFs like Klara have souls? Perhaps yes.
Following Klara seems timely at this election time because so often we think of party politicians as mere robots (as say, ALs, Artificial Liberals) assembled and programmed in their party's workshops and deployed to unthinkingly do their manufacturer's bidding and robotic voting in parliamentary divisions.
As well, one wants to describe as "robots" those prime ministers and ministers who show no capacity for compassionate "human" feelings towards refugees, the homeless, to all of disadvantaged mankind.
Then, too, so many Australians vote robotically.
The Australian National University's 2019 Australian Election Study found that 42 per cent of voters said that they had, like votebots, always voted for the same party. And so Scott Morrison's 2019 election "miracle" was assisted by voters who with a miraculous absence of personality and imagination would have voted for a werewolf, a zombie, even a person proven to have no moral compass, as long as that being had the labels "Liberal" or "Nationals" gummed to it.
And yet it is an achievement of Ishiguro's that one's certainty about these sorts of things is wholly shaken up by the example of sensitive, discerning, educable, solar-powered Klara.
Yes she is a robot, but somehow she has an algorithmic moral compass and it defames her to imagine her being so coldly, unimaginatively human as to show heartlessness towards refugees and to mindlessly vote Liberal at all, let alone for all of her short (superseded by newer models) life.
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
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