The methadone principle states that anything pleasurable will sooner or later become its opposite. Judged by a recent article by Miranda Devine, the cultural warriors of the right are reduced to sucking the cotton wool in the bottle cap.

Devine’s article is on, yawn, the NSW year 12 English syllabus. The syllabus follows the principles that have been in place for about 40 years now — offer teachers a broad range of books, films, plays, TV series (horror!), graphic novels (comic books! double horror!!) so that they can employ whatever mix of modern and classic works is going to give them the most striking encounter with some sort of culture.

They’ve written about, ohhhhh, 600 articles on this over the past coupla years and it’s got real dull. Devine’s hit upon a new twist — the books are too short.

the Board of Studies … doesn’t trust senior students to read big books … they can read short novels, such as the 216-page domestic violence novel Swallow the Air, or Jhumpa Lahiri’s 291-page The Namesake or 202 pages of Raimond Gaita’s biographical Romulus, My Father or the 78-page play A Man with Five Children by Nick Enright.

[syllabus critic Barry] Spurr does point to some gems in the new offerings – chiefly the return of Patrick White with The Aunt’s Story (304 pages) …

This has got to be a lay down misere for a year 12 exercise in our old friend “clear thinking”, no? Sample questions would include:

  1. Devine defines a 291 page books as short and therefore bad, and, implicitly, a 304 page book as long and therefore good. Does she think we haven’t noticed? Discuss.
  2. The tag “domestic violence novel” is clearly critical. In this light, discuss the merits of “domestic violence play” Medea, “youth homelessness novel” Oliver Twist, or the “green propaganda” poems of William Blake.
  3. a) Philosopher Raimond Gaita’s Romulus, My Father is celebrated around the world for blending memoir and philosophical reflection. At 202 pages it is a third the length of Judith Krantz’s Princess Daisy. Using a calculate estimate how many times better the latter book is.
  4. b) (Supplementary) Gaita’s book emphasises critical scrutiny of your parents’ values. Krantz’s is about a privileged airhead. Which better describes Devine’s life?

Discuss. And pass the cotton wool.