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Helen Garner, Literature and Justice

Love’s progress is seldom smooth. 

But everyone knows that love is brutal. A thousand songs tell the story. Love tears right through to the centre of us, into our secret self, and lays it wide open. Surely Sigmund Freud was right when he said, “We are never so defenceless against suffering as when we love.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  - HELEN GARNER

Helen Garner is an award-winning novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist. Her books include Monkey Grip, Joe Cinque’s Consolation,  The Children’s Bach, The Spare Room and This House of Grief.

First Stone

Helen Garner’s The First Stone is outdated. But her questions about sexual harassment aren’t  Gay Alcorn: The Guardian

Re-visiting The First Stone in the time of #metoo is to be irritated all over again. But Garner’s uncomfortable truths remain prescient.

The book on one level is innocent compared with the astonishing tumble of powerful and monstrous men in the United States and the nascent widening of the discussion beyond individuals to structures, to culture.

After decades of silence, of open secrets in plain sight, women feel the power of looking out for each other, of being heard and believed. One friend told me that, for the first time, she felt people “had her back”. On one day, she had been harassed – mildly, but annoyingly – twice.

Joe Cinque’s Consolation,

A harrowing book deals with the murder of a young Canberra man by his girlfriend, who had informed others of her plan to kill him at a dinner party.

House of Grief 

Garner’s address ‘How Can We Write About Darkness?’ – Domestic Violence -   delivered on 21 May 2015 at the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

I’m interested in apparently ordinary people who, under life’s unbearable pressure, burst through the very fine membrane that separates our daylight selves from the secret darkness that lives in every one of us.

Why are we ever surprised by the scorched earth around a broken family? Our laws and strictures and conventions have no purchase on the dark regions of the soul into which we venture when we love.

But everyone knows that love is brutal. A thousand songs tell the story. Love tears right through to the centre of us, into our secret self, and lays it wide open. Surely Sigmund Freud was right when he said, “We are never so defenceless against suffering as when we love.”

What people find really hard to bear, I’ve noticed, is the suggestion that they themselves might contain their share of human darkness, hidden inside their souls. Human beings have many shields against this darkness.

There’s a term that would often come up at this point in the conversation. A man like Farquharson, (who drowned his three sons) some people declared, is simply evil. That’s all he is. This means that neither he nor his crime deserves our attention. He is no longer a person. “He was found guilty by two juries. “What else is there to say? I don’t want to hear any more about him.” Sometimes I tried to argue. More often I backed away with my tail between my legs. But I kept thinking, and I still think, that there are thousands of men like Farquharson out there – hard-working, speechless Australian blokes who don’t understand why their wives got sick of them and turfed them out; dull men whose hearts are broken by rejection and by the loss of their children, and who can’t even begin to articulate their pain and rage. Men like these can be dangerous. Isn’t that worth thinking about?

I had spent a day with the real Rosie Batty, the singular Rosie, I understood that the quality people find so impressive in her is not merely the authority of the brutally bereaved, but also this wisdom, this trust.

At times of great darkness, everything around us becomes symbolic, poetic, archetypal. Perhaps this is what dreaming, and art, are for. 

Perhaps this is why we write.


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