Saturday, January 06, 2007

Traditionalism in Australia

The following was peviously posted on the old addenda page.

Guénon and Coomaraswamy were being read in Australia in the 1940s by two "classicist" Australian poets, James McAuley (1917-76) and Harold Stewart (1916-95). The two were responsible for Australia's most famous literary hoax, when in 1943-44 they composed parodies of the modernist verse they both detested, and had their parodies published in the leading avant-garde magazine, Angry Penguins, under the pseudonym "Ern Malley." Ironically, Ern Malley is probably more read today than either McAuley or Stewart.

In 1953, McAuley condemned Traditionalism as a "gnostic heresy" (Maritain's phrase) and converted to Roman Catholicism. He later became known as one of Australia's leading anti-Communist intellectuals. Stewart went on to lead a small Traditionalist group in Melbourne which met regularly in an avant-garde bookshop, the Norman Robb Bookshop, from 1952 until 1963. The group disliked the "high-handed and elitist" attitudes of the Schuonians, and only one of its members joined the Maryamiyya. Several of the others became Buddhists of the Pure Land school, including Adrian Snodgrass, later a professor at the Centre for Cultural Research of the University of Western Sydney. After Stewart moved definitively to Japan in 1966, the group ceased to exist. My thanks to Peter Kelly for this information.

Further reading: Peter Kelly, Buddha in a Bookshop (forthcoming); Michael Ackland, Damaged Men: The Precarious Lives of James McAuley and Harold Stewart (Allen and Unwin 2001); Michael Heyward, The Ern Malley Affair (Faber & Faber, 2003). See also


Anonymous said...

McAuley and Stewart were hardly 'Classicist' poets at the time of the Ern Malley hoax. That is a label often given to them by those who wish to see the episode as a simplistic reactionary/liberal conflict.

Both men were avant-garde poets in the 1930s and 40s. Both were fascinated by early Modernism - particularly works like Eliot's 'Love Song of J Alfred Pruffrock' and Joyce's 'Ulysses'. However they came to believe that Modernism was degenerating at a rapid rate into nonsensical word games and conscious incomprehensibility.

McAuley and Stewart saw 'Angry Penguins' - the well funded arts magazine which was the target of the Ern Malley hoax - as the principal Australian offender in this degeneration. Hence the Ern Malley poems.

Other factors in the hoax include the fact that both men were slightly older than the Angry Penguins crowd (a few years can be significant when you're in your twenties), poorer, less well-connected and considerably less successful in having their work published.

Also, McAuley didn't convert to Roman Catholicism. He was born one but lost his faith in his teens. No idea whether Traditionalism played a part in his return to the fold but the Guenon side of things seemed to resonate more with Stewart than McAuley.

The pair also had more success in later life tha the blog posting implied. McAuley's poems were, for a time at least, taught in Australian schools and Stewart published two best selling volumes of Japanese poetry translations in the 60s/70s.

Christopher O

Mark Sedgwick said...

Many thanks to Christopher O for corrections and additions.

Hermit said...

The Ackland book states that McAuley's father was a non-practicing Catholic and his mother a Protestant. The children were brought up Anglican and attended the local Anglican church at Strathfield.