Justice, Sacrifice and the Mother’s Poem

In 1999, when Peter Alexander's Les Murray: A Life in Progress almost appeared, literature did seem ready to take a few human sacrifices. Murray and his first biographer were about to be burnt on the altar of single truth and irreducible fact by people who normally (I mean more than usually) keep faith with de-centred subjectivity and the textuality of all things. If Murray felt he was again under attack from Narrowspeak fascist intellectuals who never praise Auschwitz, his alleged persecutors, picking through Alexander's one-sided account of scheming envy, faithless friends and unkind reviews, felt that their Otherspeak had been well but not truly sacrificed to Murrayspeak. It was like a scene from a Murray poem, with creatures circling in deep conflict and clameur about the place of blood, brought together in a victim narrative. Their circling at times made it difficult to disentangle the narrative of victim from the victims of narrative, from narrative as victim. Now that the dust has settled a little (and the blood?), it is clear that many see Les Murray: A Life in Progress as too sympathetic to Murray and, therefore, unreliable. Many, that is, read biography as history. Others find it useful as evidence of what Cotter calls Murray's 'emergent self (Cotter 37), especially in the way it illuminates the autobiographical basis of Fredy Neptune. Certainly it is possible to make more of Alexander's book if it is read as Murray's story, since it then becomes a fascinating account of how the figure known as ' Les Murray' makes and is made of narrative. In particular, it reveals how stories of the sacrificial victim bleed through Murray's life and work.

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Published 1 October 2001 in Volume 20 No. 2. Subjects: Les Murray.

Cite as: Rowe, Noel. ‘Justice, Sacrifice and the Mother’s Poem.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 20, no. 2, 2001, doi: 10.20314/als.efdef9fd5e.