For three days, the 2022 Melbourne Writers Festival offered discussions, debates and deep dives into the role of art in society, in politics and in the art of writing.
However, even the most engaged spectators would not have been able to make it to every event. So, with the weekend behind us, here are some of the big ideas and questions we needed to think about.
Why are we disgusted when fiction depicts things that happen in real life?
At an event centered around her new book, Lapvone, author Ottessa Moshfegh has responded to the criticism her work often receives for being inflexible about bodily functions. “Are we still so shocked that a character uses a toilet? It’s such a part of life, I like to push it so that uptight people are like ‘oh, I’m uptight’. ” she reflected via video link to the appreciative laugh. Nor does her novels shy away from violence or the darker side of human nature, something she is often criticized for. It’s a somewhat hypocritical stance she suggests: “The same unbelievably awful things are happening daily in real life, but we don’t discuss how disgusting we are.”
Sometimes it’s impossible to leave your beliefs and values at the door
Do commentators need to be apolitical to properly explore an issue? In Writing errors, a panel discussion with formerly imprisoned academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert and academic Michelle Aung Thin, journalist and author Louisa Lim recalled a time when she went to conduct an interview with pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The group was tasked with producing huge eight-story protest banners that would be hung over prominent landmarks. When she went to talk to them, however, she found herself compelled to join them. As a journalist, she was concerned about the inclusion of this scene in her book, indelible citybut ended up including it, the personal touch ultimately enhancing research and reporting.
Writers can still inspire their audience
It is rare for the audience to rise at the end of a session. Polite applause, yes, but standing ovations? Rarely. The Writing errors The event produced a spontaneous eruption of enthusiastic applause from an audience that immediately rose to their collective feet. The response was similar for former asylum seeker Abbas Nazari, who said he was rescued by the Tampa after the boat he was on with 437 others washed up in the ocean. He was one of the lucky ones – one day in detention abroad, then left with 149 other Afghans for the paradise of New Zealand, where he flourished. He wants his book After Tampato be read not by people who agree with him but “by people who had strong anti-refugee sentiments”.
You can’t deny there’s denial
Anita Hill, the woman who testified memorable and powerfully against the 1991 nomination of Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court, spoke about her ongoing campaign against gender-based violence and sexual harassment. There could be no solution to the problem until society was prepared to deal with it, she said. But although one in four women is likely to be sexually assaulted in college and at home, “people still say it can’t be possible…even those who have been through it.” Denial, she said, was a reaction that allowed the problem to perpetuate itself. The rise of social media has facilitated greater sharing of experiences – an important part of healing – but she wondered what might have happened if social media had been so influential when she testified: “ In 1991, people shared, but nothing like today. Washington to recount their experiences”.
Coinciding with his country’s advances into territory occupied by Russian invaders, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Australia Vasyl Myroshnychenko spelled out the future of the war. The only strategy was to keep fighting, he said, because his country was facing an existential crisis, to defeat Russia, to push it back from all Ukrainian territory. “Only then can we have a settlement,” he stressed. “As Ukrainians, we can only accept victory.” He wants the return of Crimea and Donbass and their 2.4 million inhabitants and the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes. One of the consequences of the invasion was “that we are witnessing the birth of a real political nation”.