An Alternative Agenda

Ian Hamilton

Not actually spoken by the Convener of a Conference on Literary Journals held last month at the Australian National University at Canberra

We’re gathered here today
In Canberra
To discourse on The Literary Journal:
It’s role – Now, Then,
Tomorrow afternoon, when (by the way)
We have a change
Of personnel.
Jon Culler has got toothache;
In his stead (relax, you kiwis),
An unlucky break:
The expat. Peter Porter, with some stuff
You can quite happily ignore
On why he thinks professors are a bore.
Stuff him. We welcome too,
From Critical Inquiry, our lone Yank:
W.J.T. Mitchell seems at first
Unsettlingly cheery. Underneath
He’s ninety per cent Theory,
One of us. While others idly prate
Tom will ‘articulate’,
post ’68.

Which brings us to the ones
We still most love to hate.
Also imported from Abroad
We have three Pom belles-lettrists
Who, to judge from their expressions,
Might not be turning up
To all our sessions:
The LRB’s Karl Miller, gargoyle-like,
Seems half-asleep. (The other half
Is threatening to weep.)
And from the TLS, Jerry Treglown
Forever savouring some private joke,
And Ian Hamilton,
All-purpose lit. hist. hack,
Invisible behind a cloud of smoke.
This trio you can secretly disdain:
Back numbers
Here to wave the Impo flag
We’re here to piss on.

We post-cols
Have actually assembled here
To make it terminally clear
Who runs this culture-site
These days, whose canons
Have dry powder, whose lit-myths
Can stand up to the litmus
Of the newest new lit. crit.
The Poms are bloody good
At looking peevish
But wait until we’re through
With Grandad Leavis.
And big Matt.
That’s when we’ll see
Who’s where it’s at.

For four long days
We’re planning to attack
These dilettante lib. hums.
On two flanks.
First we will gently Oz them
Into critical narcosis
With deep-stir talk
Of Quadrant and of Scripsi,
Get them tipsy,
And then, before the bastards can say
‘Dingo’
Or even ‘symbiosis’,
We’ll poison them
With our post-modern lingo!

The end – on Day Four – ought to be
Bloodless and undramatic,
Just like me.
Already at death’s door,
The Brits will only need
A little more:
For each there’ll be one final squirm
As we dispense what is to him
The deadliest of life-denying terms.
P. Porter, as I see it,
Will be felled by ‘phallocratic’,
And ‘counter-public’ should take care
Of Miller. For Treglown
‘Matrix’ should prove the killer.
If, by some mal-chance, these beauts
Don’t terre the Poms,
Why then
We’ll let them try for size
‘NARRATIVISE’.
Thus, comrades, I envisage
Our old enemies’ linguistic long goodbyes.

So guys (both he and she),
Let’s to it. Paper One
Today, a neo-radical critique
Of Eagleton’s most recent ...
(By the way,
For Hamilton, who planned to write this up
It seems we’ll need no poisoned cup
Of language. The smoke clears.
He is already good and dead:
An old-style bourgeois bullet
Through his old-style rhymer’s head.)