2020 Books and presenters

18 February 2020

Philip Roth, American Pastoral (1997)

Presented by Professor Maxine McKew

Maxine McKew
Professor Maxine McKew

American Pastoral was published in 1997 and won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. Many critics and readers consider it to be Roth’s masterpiece, and it has consistently been voted as one of the most outstanding works of American fiction. The book is set against the political turmoil of 1960s America – including the growing opposition to the Vietnam War and race riots in the cities – and is the first in a celebrated trilogy that included I Married a Communist and The Human Stain.

American Pastoral traces the personal history of Swede Levov, a man “living out his version of paradise.” This pastoral is shattered when Swede’s daughter Merry embraces Weatherman-inspired violence. A decent man, not prepared for complexity, let alone monumental tragedy, is left to deal with what Roth calls the “desperation of the indigenous American berserk.” This Masterclass will take a close look at the text, particularly the exceptional detail of Roth’s prose. We will consider the wider question of the way historic events intrude on the lives of ordinary people.

Professor Maxine McKew is an Honorary Enterprise Professor based in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. Most recently she has worked on the University of Melbourne’s Network of Schools programme and hosted and produced a monthly podcast series called Talking Teaching. Maxine’s background traverses both journalism and politics. She is the author of two books – Tales from the Political Trenches and Class Act – a study of the key challenges in Australian schooling. She also works as a non-executive director and serves on the boards of the State Library of Victoria and New Energy Solar.

17 March 2020

William Trevor, Fools of Fortune (1983)

Presented by Professor Philomena Murray

Philomena Murray
Professor Philomena Murray

Fools of Fortune is a novel about an Anglo-Irish family from the early 1920s. It is a tale of loyalties, of trust and war, of grief and revenge. It is narrated by three characters – Willie, Marianne and Imelda – who are deeply affected by violence. Willie’s tutor asks him: ‘Will we tackle a bit of history?’ This book does. It is the story of a family in a Big House in Ireland and their fate in a period of unrest and violence.

This book helps us reflect on Protestantism and Catholicism, about assumptions around Irish nationalism and British identity. What is Anglo-Irish in terms of war and identity? Is it English or Irish or neither? What does it mean to be an outsider? This is a story about love and loss at a turbulent time in Irish history and about the long-lasting effects of war and conflict.

Professor Philomena Murray is Jean Monnet Chair ad personam at the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. She is an internationally recognised expert on the European Union and a former diplomat. Like William Trevor she has regarded Ireland and Italy as home. She has lived in Australia half her life. She holds honorary positions at Trinity College Dublin; College of Europe, Bruges; and United Nations University Institute for Comparative Regional Integration Studies. She has been awarded many EU-funded and other research grants and led international research teams across Europe, Australia and Asia. She explores identity, belonging and narratives in her writings. She is an expert on European crises; Brexit; EU-Australia relations; comparative regionalism; EU-Asia relations; and refugee externalisation policies in Europe and Australia. She is sought-after as a speaker and a media commentator. She set up the first curriculum on the EU in Australia.

21 April 2020

William Shakespeare, Hamlet (1602)

Presented by Associate Professor David McInnis

David McInnis
Associate Professor David McInnis

“Who’s there?”

The opening words of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet set the agenda for the probing, doubting, and questioning of life’s meaning in the play that follows. The quintessential example of Shakespearean “high” tragedy, Hamlet is a play situated at the crossroads of literary and intellectual history: it is the culmination of the 1590s history plays but the first of the great seventeenth-century tragedies; it is the archetypal English tragedy but was the first Shakespeare play performed outside of Europe (in 1607) and was adapted into German throughout the seventeenth century. It dramatises the fin-de-siecle anxieties crippling England as their queen lay dying without an obvious heir to the throne, but simultaneously warns of the dangers of rash political action. It is both a tragedy of family and of politics. In this Masterclass, we’ll examine some of the reasons why Hamlet has been seen as Shakespeare’s greatest achievement.

Associate Professor David McInnis is an Associate Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Melbourne. He is author of Mind-Travelling and Voyage Drama in Early Modern England (Palgrave, 2013), editor of Dekker’s Old Fortunatus for the Revels Plays series (Manchester UP, 2019), and is finalising a monograph on Shakespeare and lost plays. With Roslyn L. Knutson and Matthew Steggle, he is founder and co-editor of the Lost Plays Database. He has also edited a number of books, including Lost Plays in Shakespeare’s England (Palgrave, 2014; co-edited with Steggle) and a sequel volume, Loss and the Literary Culture of Shakespeare’s Time (Palgrave 2019; co-edited with Knutson and Steggle); Travel and Drama in Early Modern England: The Journeying Play (Cambridge UP, 2018; co-edited with Claire Jowitt); and Tamburlaine: A Critical Reader (Arden Early Modern Drama Guides, 2020). In 2016 he was jointly awarded the Australian Academy of the Humanities’ Max Crawford Medal (granted to Australian early-career researchers for outstanding scholarly achievement in the humanities). His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC, and elsewhere.

26 May 2020

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1961)

Presented by Professor Karen Farquharson

Karen Farquharson
Professor Karen Farquharson

The Wretched of the Earth by French West Indian Frantz Fanon is a brilliant piece of political analysis. Emerging from Fanon’s experiences as a psychiatrist in Algeria in the 1950s, it takes the perspective of the colonised to explore decolonisation, state legitimacy, struggles for independence, and colonial war and the ‘mental disorders’ associated with it. He interrogates the links between ‘race’, economics and violence in the colony and his work has influenced revolutionaries as well as academics. This Masterclass will explore the key themes of The Wretched of the Earth and its academic legacies.

Professor Karen Farquharson is Head of the School of Social and Political Sciences and Professor of Sociology at the University of Melbourne. Her research is focused on the sociology of ‘race’ and racism, ethnicity, and diversity, mainly in the contexts of media and sport. Karen is co-author of three books including Qualitative Social Research: Contemporary Methods for the Digital Age (2016) and co-editor of three collections, most recently Australian Media and the Politics of Belonging (2018) and Relating Worlds of Racism: Dehumanisation, Belonging, and the Normativity of European Whiteness (2019). She is author of numerous refereed journal articles and book chapters. Karen was educated at Harvard University (MA, PhD) and the University of California, Berkeley (BA).

16 June 2020

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

Presented by Professor Peter McPhee

Professor Peter McPhee
Professor Peter McPhee

A Tale of Two Cities is a great and famous book, often referred to as one of the best-selling books of all time. It is on one level a profoundly moving story of good and evil, of emotional loyalties and hatreds played out against the menacing background of the injustices of eighteenth-century England and France and the violent conflicts of the French Revolution. On another level it is also redolent of Dickens' celebrated capacity as a writer of gripping prose and of his values and principles, perhaps of his private life. It has had an extraordinary impact on the way the Anglophone world has understood the French Revolution, often replicated in other cultural forms which have drawn on the book, such as the 2012 movie The Dark Knight Rises. It is also a controversial book because of what some historians see as its jaundiced depiction of the French Revolution and revolution generally, a reflection of the context within which it was written.

Professor Peter McPhee was appointed to a Personal Chair in History at the University of Melbourne in 1993. He has published widely on the history of modern France, most recently Robespierre: a Revolutionary Life (Yale University Press, 2012); and Liberty or Death: the French Revolution (Yale University Press, 2016). He was President of the Academic Board in 2002-03, then appointed to the position of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) in 2003 before becoming the University's first Provost in 2007-09, with responsibility for the design and implementation of the University's new curriculum structures, the ‘Melbourne Model’. He chaired the Board of Melbourne University Publishing 2012-17. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities (1997) and the Academy of Social Sciences (2003). He was awarded a Centenary Medal for services to education in 2003 and became a Member of the Order of Australia in 2012. He continues to teach in the History program.

21 July 2020

Geoffrey Blainey, The Tyranny of Distance (1966)

Presented by Professor Tom Griffiths

Tom Griffiths
Professor Tom Griffiths

Geoffrey Blainey is one of Australia’s most celebrated - and controversial - historians. He is renowned as a master of narrative history who can evoke the material reality of the past with vivid detail and telling metaphors. The Tyranny of Distance, published in 1966, became one of the most influential and popular Australian histories in the twentieth century, selling almost 200,000 copies and entering our language. It began as a history of transport and then became so much more: a new interpretation of the British colonisation of Australia, a meditation on 'how distance shaped Australia's history', and a ripping yarn. We will look at the historical landscape into which Blainey wrote The Tyranny of Distance and consider why it made such an impact. And we will endeavour to see the book in the context of the author’s whole oeuvre: what did he write next, and how was Australian history about to change?

Professor Tom Griffiths is Emeritus Professor of History at the Australian National University and completed his undergraduate and Masters degrees at the University of Melbourne and his PhD at Monash. His books and essays, which have won prizes in literature, history, science, politics and journalism, include Hunters and Collectors (1996), Forests of Ash: An Environmental History (2001), Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica (2007) and The Art of Time Travel: Historians and their Craft (2016). He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, an Officer of the Order of Australia, and Chair of the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

18 August 2020

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (circa 340BCE)

Presented by Professor Margaret Cameron

Margaret Cameron
Professor Margaret Cameron

There is no single philosopher to have had such a lengthy, extensive, and international influence than Aristotle, who lived and worked in the 4th century BCE. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle asked a fundamental question: "What is the good for humans?" His first attempt at an answer sparked a debate that has lasted for millennia: it is happiness, but what that is and how to achieve it is a matter of great delicacy. In what may be considered the first "self-help" manual to have been written, Aristotle sets out a proposal for achieving happiness as we interact on a daily basis with so many different things: money, education, emotions, relationships with other people, political entities, and honours. He considers the roles played by pleasure and pain, and asks the hard questions: Can I be happy without friends or children? How do I become happy? Are there things in life to be avoided at all costs? In the end, we will consider the depth of influence of this great ethical treatise, and investigate its relevance today.

Professor Margaret Cameron is the Head of School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. Her primary areas of research expertise are in the history of philosophy, especially the ancient, medieval and early modern periods. Professor Cameron was previously (until June 2019) Canada Research Chair in the Aristotelian Tradition, as well as Associate Dean of Research, at the University of Victoria, Canada. She has published on philosophy of language (Sourcebook in the History of Philosophy of Language), philosophy of mind (Philosophy of Mind in the Early and High Middle Ages), and many articles and chapters on her favourite philosopher, Peter Abelard (12th century). Professor Cameron is currently working on two projects: the universal language movement in the Renaissance, and the philosophy of true crime.

22 September 2020

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (2003)

Presented by Professor Glyn Davis

Glyn Davis
Professor Glyn Davis

Among the most acclaimed novelists of her generation, Margaret Atwood has made a prominent contribution to thinking about feminism and women in public life through her fiction and role as a public intellectual. More recently, her work has been celebrated for an often bleak forecast about the near future, with images of totalitarian states in societies not far from our own. While The Handmaid's Tale is the most public expression of this strand in Atwood's work, other later works develop her concerns about contemporary trends. Oryx and Crake is not her best-known novel, but it contains a vivid and compelling vision of the near future, and the primary concerns that have animated more than 50 years of Atwood's fiction.

Professor Glyn Davis is CEO of the Paul Ramsay Foundation and a Professor of political science with appointments at ANU and Oxford. He served as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne from 2005 to 2018. He is a public policy specialist with experience in government and higher education and who delivered the 2010 Boyer Lectures on the theme The Republic of Learning. His community work includes partnering with Indigenous programs in the Goulburn-Murray Valley and Cape York, and service on a range of arts boards, including those of the Queensland and Melbourne Theatre Companies.

20 October 2020

Pramoedya Ananta Toer, This Earth of Mankind (1980)

Presented by Professor Vedi Hadiz

Vedi Hadiz
Professor Vedi Hadiz

Set at the turn of the 20th century, during Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia, This Earth of Mankind is the first of the four books that comprise Pramoedya Ananta Toer's Buru Quartet. It is a story of oppression, injustice, and one young man's political, emotional, and intellectual awakening - written while Pramoedya was confined on the prison island of Buru, where prisoners did hard labour and suffered starvation diets, beatings, and torture. The narrator is Minke, the first native Javanese boy to attend an elite Dutch colonial high school. A brilliant student and descendant of Javanese royalty, Minke's political consciousness evolves as he is forced to confront the entrenched antagonisms of a society built upon oppression. The book was banned during the authoritarian New Order period in Indonesia. This Masterclass will discuss how the book's themes transcend its historical setting - raising questions about social justice, racial and gender equality and political consciousness - and why it should be considered dangerous by all authoritarian regimes.

Professor Vedi Hadiz is Director and Professor of Asian Studies at the Asia Institute and an Assistant Deputy Vice-Chancellor International, University of Melbourne. He was previously Professor of Asian Societies and Politics at Murdoch University's Asia Research Centre and Director of its Indonesia Research Programme. An Indonesian national, he was an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in 2010-2014. Professor Hadiz received his PhD at Murdoch University in 1996 where he was Research Fellow until he went to the National University of Singapore in 2000. At NUS, he was an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology until returning to Murdoch in 2010. His research interests revolve around political sociology and political economy issues, especially those related to the contradictions of development in Indonesia and Southeast Asia more broadly, and more recently, in the Middle East.

17 November 2020

Franz Kafka, The Trial (1925)

Presented by Associate Professor Heather Benbow

Heather Benbow
Associate Professor Heather Benbow

Franz Kafka, a German-speaking Czech Jew, has been called the greatest literary expert on power. His unfinished novel The Trial is his long-form study of the topic. True to Kafka's literary modernism, the novel presents us with a weak hero, a deeply flawed man whose baffling choices and lack of self-control and understanding are deeply frustrating for readers. Unfinished in Kafka's lifetime, rescued and published by his literary executor Max Brod, the novel contains a mini masterpiece, the parable "Before the Law", and inspired a filmic masterpiece in Orson Welles' remarkable adaptation. We will give due attention to these other lives of Kafka's novel. In order to understand Kafka’s irreverent perspective on power we will visit turn-of-the-century Prague and regard the situation of German-speaking Jews such as Kafka at that tumultuous time. While Kafka's themes have been declared timeless, they surely could only have originated here.

Associate Professor Heather Benbow is Associate Professor of German Studies at the University of Melbourne. She has published scholarly books and articles on a range of topics, including the work and life of Franz Kafka. She is especially fascinated by intercultural encounters and representations in literary and screen cultures. She has been a visiting fellow at the University of Tübingen, Germany, the Free University of Berlin and the University of Cambridge. Teaching Kafka in German to undergraduate students is one of her greatest joys. She is currently also the Director of the Hansen Scholarship Program.