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Dec 21, 2009

Quadrant blames political decision for funding cut

Conservative magazine Quadrant is accusing the Australia Council of a "patently political decision" in cutting its funding from $50,000 to $30,000, thus threatening its literary content. But was it politics that caused the cut?

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Another skirmish has begun in the tired old culture wars, with the conservative magazine Quadrant accusing the Australia Council of a “patently political decision” in cutting its funding from $50,000 to $30,000, thus threatening its literary content.

In a letter to subscribers, editor and key cultural warrior Keith Windschuttle asserts that the during the years of the Howard government, the literature board of the Australia Council has never reduced the funding of “overtly left-wing publications like Meanjin, Overland and Australian Book Review. In fact those three journals always received more money than Quadrant even though they carry a fraction of our literary content.”

But this morning the director of the literature board, Susan Hayes, said that the reason Quadrant’s funding was cut was not politics, but a lack of funds combined with a concern that Quadrant drew on too narrow a field of writers.

“I absolutely and categorically reject the idea that politics had anything to do with it,” she said.

Hayes said that the literary magazine Southerly had also received a cut in the current round. In a context of declining funding, more magazines were considered this year, with the publications Griffith Review and Wet Ink becoming eligible, she said.

Hayes said that the literature board had had ‘concerns’ about Quadrant, because its fiction and poetry seemed to come repeatedly from the  same small field of writers. The magazine had been told that this was of concern, she said.

She did not name them, but the Quadrant website for fiction and poetry shows that frequent  contributors include Sophie Masson and Jennifer Compton. Quadrant’s literary editor is the world-renowned poet Les Murray.

In his letter to subscribers, Windschuttle states that the content “distinguishes the magazine and attracts many readers” but that the rates of pay for writers were already “pitifully low” and might have to be cut because of the reduced funding.

The report of the key meeting at which the literature board decision was made, together with the successful funding recipients, is here.

Hayes said she had already fielded “a couple” of complaints from Quadrant subscribers.  Meanwhile, Windschuttle appeals for supporters to renew regular subscriptions early or take out premium subscriptions. Premium subscribers, he says, will receive free books including his own book, volume three of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, which has, of course, already proved controversial.

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12 comments

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12 thoughts on “Quadrant blames political decision for funding cut

  1. Jack Robertson

    Oh, Lou, FFS, if you want to see self-pitying diatribes from (leftie) writers worried about their sanctified public funding getting snipped, wander over to the productivity commission website and slog through the 550-odd extended whines from everyone from Winton to Carey to Matt bloody Reilly, when their protected subsidised marketplace was threatened during the inquiry into parallel imports. The hypocrisy on display is, as usual, breathtaking: lefty arts subsidy cut = rampant censorship and Culture War aggression; righty snip = ‘oh, well, bad luck, but that’s life…’ And the stated rational for this mean cut (to conservative subsidy) is, also as usual, exquisite in it smix of pompous disingenuousness and gate-keeping loftiness. Hayes says the Lit Board was worried about a small pool of contributors; about ‘literary merit’. Well, all I’m pointing out is that I’m a brand new contributor (and not remotely a candidate as a Quadrant ‘usual suspect’. As for the ‘literary merit’ of Quadrant…well, its Literary Editor is Australia’s finest living creative writer, and our most likely candidate for our second Nobel. It takes a special – and general – kind of f**k-you dismissal of the conservative slant on matters literary to decide that the Lit Board has a right to ride shotgun over Les Murray’s literary editorial subjective judgement.

    If Imre Salusinszky, when he was Lit Board chairman under Howard, had decided to cut 30% of funding to Meanjin, on the grounds that his Board considered Sophie Cunningham’s editorialship had resulted in a ‘narrowing’ of the pool of writers, and a lower ‘literary merit’…well, I would hope and expect her to protest, and angrily. You have to extend a degree of autonomy to – and trust in – editors of subsidised mags, especially ones with long and admirable pedigrees and great traditions of fostering literary content, like Quadrant.

  2. bis

    Lou, fellow ‘leftie’ Shakira Hussein is a having a ‘whinge’ about it on these very pages.

    As for the accusation of hypocrisy, the idea put forth by the free marketeers of Quadrant that government should not subsidize media only works if no one at all is receiving tax-payer’s money, else it would not be a level playing field and those that refuse government subsidy would be putting themselves at commercial disadvantage. The idea is that all media outlets compete on their own merits.
    So Quadrant is not being hypocritical at all, and would no-doubt welcome the introduction of said level playing field by complete government withdrawal from media starting preferably with the privatization of the ABC and SBS.

  3. Lou Porter

    thank heavens you don’t get paid for such self pitying diatribes.
    At least the lefties don’t whinge about taxpayer funds going to support these literary journals.
    Right wing loonies should never get or accept government money, but i guess they’re a bit like Mitch Hooke from the minerals mouthpeice, they want millions in diesel $ subsidies but no ‘ great big new tax’ (copyright t.abbott) that may make for a less polluted planet.
    happy new year, from terence galvin

  4. Jack Robertson

    ‘…few OTT adjectives…’

    Ooops. Adverbs. Failed writer, no lit merit. Happy hols all.

  5. Jack Robertson

    I just had a 3500 worder published in Quadders. Apart from the perennial joy (for me) of getting something up anywhere in hard copy – don’t snicker, all you practised old hands and sinecured public titty-suckers, some of us wannabes have a right old struggle to get words into ink at all – I was also slung $250 of taxpayer dough. Fine, it’s only about 7 or 8 cents a word or something, cf. for example The Monthly at $1 a word (that, thanks only to publisher Morry Schwartz’s sense of vocation and generosity)…but for me, that’s two weeks rent.

    Greatly and warmly appreciated, skepticus autartikas. And believe you me, not pissed against the wall on recreational drugs along wiv’ me dole cheque and AC grant wad!**

    **Just as an aside – it’s rather bemusing to suffer the bloody griping about limited Lit Board funding from the same quarters wot just spent six+ months campaigning to save PIR’s, in the process snubbing their noses at the prospect of a huge direct funding revamp & boost! Some of the PIR lobby – like Mike Heyward – even actively claimed that Oz writing doesn’t need or want the crutch of direct funding…make up your minds, dudes…and thanks, Mike, for feathering your own bed at cost to the rest of us, matey. If it’s a paucity of direct subsidy that irks youse, Oz writer dudes, then don’t blame anyone but (y)ourselves; the PC was BEGGING to be allowed to lob more loot (y)our way…ah, but I digress.

    Or not really. What’s been interesting – and perhaps apposite here – has been the process of getting my Quaddy thing up. The piece – yes, on that very ishoo, the recent books parallel import decision, and Oz Lit funding/exceptionalism generally – was one I’d pitched in various forms around the joint to a few of the more obvious options, generally leftier ones (Monthly, Fairfax Op Eds, The Oz”s mushy niches, a few websites), ie slots at which that I figured my modest byline might have a better shot, what with my easily Google-able track record of Not Happy John Howard-hating fulmination (and in fact some boorish Windschuttle-bashing on occasions, for example here). Alas, no eds of the leftier shades were interested, most didn’t even reply, which of course as a wannabe you just have to put down to your own literary failings (and banalities of timing, space, etc)…ie not any kind of ‘bias’ or ‘conspiracy’ – otherwise you end up exactly in that mug’s game that Eric Ellis & Ben Naparstek et al played unedifyingly out in public recently , instead of simply trying harder to write better and pitch smarter.

    Still, just as that imbroglio did throw a useful light on the mediocre banalities – and power-assymmeteries – that lie at the heart of how our literary culture is daily-shaped, I don’t its worthless to use the Quadrant/Lit Board spat as a springboard to the bigger stuff up for grabs in this epoch-changing moment. My piece as got up eventually in Quaddy is online, here – feel free to make your own judgement about its ‘literary merit’, a la the Hayes line, or otherwise, while noting that I’m a new Quaddy contributor and hardly a Quaddy/Cultural War usual suspect, at that. The other, earlier versions I pitched to leftier joints were tailored to each prospective outlet, ie mostly much shorter, around 800-1000…but the general thrust was the same, ie opposing PIR’s, which – in terms of the literary community – was very much a minority view. (The only other anti-PIR piece to come from a working writer – as opposed to those like Bob Carr, who were predominantly wearing their economic/consumer advocate hats in the debate – was from Michael Wilding, in the SMH I think. Even that took a more consumer/price based PIR-opposing stance than I do, which is mostly on cultural grounds.

    Like I said I’m not interested in whining about a Morry Schwartz or a Rebecca Weisser et al giving me to cold shoulder. Pitch fifty, get one up: that’s the grind, at least for me. The point I really want to make is this: make whatever you will of the stance my piece takes on PIR, but I challenge anyone here when doing so to see if you CAN – or even should? – seperate your judgement of its so-called ‘literary merit’ from what just happens to be your own pozzy on PIR. I’m just not sure such a statement as Hayes’ – that ‘politics doesn’t come into it’ – can possibly be true, when assessing anything’s ‘literary merit’. In fact, I’m very sure of it. That so many literary gate-keepers seem to think you can – or think they should, and try their best in good intellectual faith to do so – is one of the great causal ills of modern wordsmithery. The very guts of writing, editing writing, publishing writing…is – surely? – to read the bloody words, think about what they say about the real world out there, decide whether they ring true (to you) about it, and how powerfully, how acutely, how entertainingly, how..merit-fully.
    Surely it’s specious, disingenuous nonsense of the most damaging kind for the word-dudes with their hands on the public sack of dosh to think that ‘literary merit’ is some kind of disembodied, abstract quality. Surely it’s rubbish to claim you can assess the fund-worthiness of Quadders WITHOUT its taking its politics actively into the equation.

    And surely it’s crap – a load of bullshit – to publicly say that that’s what you have done, when your inner voice knows damned well that you haven’t. Because it just ain’t possible. Nor even desirable.

    Surely any writer – and especially a little mag editor like you, Sophie C, necessarily making your subjective literary judgement calls every day of your working life – can’t afford to set up these kind of compartmentalised contrivances? Of course it fricking matters to (what you ajudge as) its ‘literary merit’ what my words about PIR actually SAY about PIR (as distinct from ‘how well’ they say them); the POLITICS of my piece are a good hefty part of the fricking POINT of its ‘literary merit’. Forget the mouse-poo sized pitfalls of ‘bias’ – the real strife we writers all get ourselves into comes when we try to achieve the impossible task of avoiding bias…doing nothing but stripping our language – our own tools – of any fricking real concrete meaning in the real concrete world.

    The point is, Sophie C (for example), that the politics of your joint DO and SHOULD matter to its ‘literary merit’. Everyone – including (especially) Susan Hayes, with her mitts on the public dough-gate – ought to acknowledge that; explicitly recognise the supreme difficulty of parsing ‘bad writing’ from ‘wrong thinking’, beyond obvious technical flaws. This is a fundamental question of epistemology, one that is crowding in on us all more and more urgently, in this free-for-all era in which more and more hitherto paid writers are being asked to write opinions for free online. What’s ‘literary merit’, and what’s simply ‘writing I agree with’? How do we make the subjective decisions about who gets funded to churn it out? And how does the process become self-perpetuating: ‘writing I agree with’ becomes ‘good writing’, begets more ‘good writing’ that just happens to be ‘writing I agree with’.

    FWIW, I do think Australia’s literary mileau has a bit of a cultural problem with groupthink. It doesn’t mean there’s a conspiracy, it doesn’t mean anything even terribly debilitating – if a writer is good enough, they will get their stuff out there; the net now makes it easier than ever. But a minor spat like this does open the door on whopping debates about arts/cultural subsidy more generally. Who decides? How? Who is to judge what is ‘literary merit’…how?…and even why bother at all now?…in an anarchic era in which no writer needs to be subsided at all to get their work out there, where the audience can make that call all by themselves…what is the case for literary subsidy – especially of new writers – at all?

    Is there one? Really? Again – who decides? Who decides? Why? What literary provenance has lifted a Susan Hayes to the influential, public purse-controlling summit? Serious questions worth examining, and hard, for all the cheaper Culture War shots flying about – like those of skepticus Autartikus above (and, you might think, mine over at Quaddy, too).

    FWIW, as a little mag editor Keith Windshuttle was terrific. Courteous, fast, generous, and very open-minded, even after I’d pointed out my own less-than-typically Quadrant writerly provenance. Good editing help from his deputy, fast turn-around admin-wise, cheque in the bank a few days after the issue was out. (If you reckon that kind of gratitude is overkill, you ain’t done much freelance pitching in Oz, have you!?) Now sure, this ‘bias’ caper cuts both ways, ie my specific piece here ‘just happened’ to fit in very nicely with the aforementioned Culture War go-the-luvvies riff Quaddy’s tended to embrace over the years, and doubtless Keef’s assessment of its ‘lit merit’ was deeply coloured by its stance. God forbid I should pretend I’m Vlad Nabakov in the style stakes. But I’ve spent ten years spewing out a mountain of earnest words that tried to toe the ‘right-thinking’ line – mostly genuinely, but sometimes a bit cynically – at journals like Arena, Overland, the Fairfax options…and rare has been the kind of happy experience I got from Quadrant. Frankly – if those who run the Good Weekends and the ABR’s could take a leaf out his professional book, life as a failed writer in Oz would be infinitely more bearable. Some writers will swear that it’s a matter of building contacts and networking…but I’ve never met Windschuttle in my life.

    Sorry about the long comment, MS. I ain’t getting paid for this bit of content-making so I just can’t be stuffed working harder to make it shorter. Happily, I don’t need to, do I. Happily, neither does anyone else, do you. It’s all (and only) about your words and whether or not you can hold a reader to the end of yours now, however long.

    Who read it all, I wonder?! Anyone? Bueller…

    Oh, the uncertain agonies and anxieties of the failing freelance writer…welcome to fall of the tyranny of the medium. Huzzah! Welcome to the twilight of your unchallenged and unchallengable literary gate-keeping days too, Susan Hayes & Co. In the chaotic wordy free-for-all of our hectic white noise times, methinx you’ll have to do a whole lot better – wordy-oomph wise – than careerist rote-intoning of a bit of Rudd-speak motherhoodism, shackled to a few OTT adjectives to give it a facsimile of authenticity and bite, Suze. To grab and hold yon readers, girl, in the ultimate open-competitive word-marketplace online! To win and win again an audience, on wordy skill alone, rather than incumbency and credentialism and…shall we say ‘careerist momentum’?! Perhaps. Perhaps not fair.

    But how much – and by what measure – does Susan Hayes recognise ‘literary merit,’ anyway?

    Where’d Sue & Co get their public license to pass judgement on Keef Windschuttle & Co’s deathless prose?

    O, but quail not, fellow scrivs all: no fair dinkum writer with authentic talent and something original to say has anything to fear from a genuine ‘literary meritocracy’…do they? Do I?

    Do we? Do you?

  6. jeebus

    I believe Ayn Rand would call this looting, Mr Windschuttle.

  7. Skepticus Autartikus

    Why do any of these sheltered workshops for bourgeois mediocrity get even a penny of our taxes? If Les Murray really is “all that” let him sing for Quadrant’s supper. As for these other maudlin rags, let them go bankrupt. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

  8. Tom McLoughlin

    Quadrant on the taxpayer teat? Oh Hypocrisy!

    Did they urge a removal of all book publishing local protections while taking this subsidy?

  9. jack jones

    Hang on! Aren’t these the same old blokes that whinge continually about the dead hand of government funding on everything. What are they doing going for government funding anyhow. I thought their whole rationale was to get the nanny state out of everyone’s business? What a bunch of mendicant old hypocritical whingers. Typical right wingers if you ask me, always whingeing about government spending, till it comes to them!

  10. Bill

    Why can’t they stand on their own two (right) feet.

  11. meanjin

    I’ve made this comment on another blog, but it’s worth repeating I think: Meanjin was on the amount of money that Quadrant has been cut back to for many many years. We only went up (to $40,000) last year after we changed our approach to funding applications. This year we got $50,000 – again we put a huge amount of work into our application to try and have more success in these matters. So, while I don’t blame Quadrant for feeling frustrated, they are not alone in sitting on $35,000.

  12. Frank Campbell

    No problem Quadrant- just go back to CIA funding.

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