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Contemporary Cultural Conundrums

Lecturers: Justin Clemens, Marc Hiatt, Bryan Cooke, Cameron Shingleton and Matthew Sharpe

Originally Taught: Summer School 2007

Torture: A Neo-Cartesian Perspective
Justin Clemens

The seminar attempts to run the ambitious argument that judicial torture and democracy are mutually exclusive. Democracy, from a neo-Cartesian perspective, will be said to be founded on a peculiar articulation between voice (or: mind) and body (the voice is always the voice of a body, though the voice cannot be reduced to the body). This articulation is necessarily destroyed by torture. More than this - if it is destroyed in a single individual and a mind reduced to a body through the politically-sanctioned infliction of pain then the possibility of a proper articulation is in principle democratically destroyed.

The Concept of Freedom in the Common Law: A Dialectical Perspective
Marc Hiatt

ANZAC Day, 1999. Essendon plays Collingwood at the MCG. Departing from the ground, two young men become involved in a series of events - what the trial judge would later narrate as an "unfolding tragedy" - that culminates in the beating and death of another. Charges of assault and manslaughter are laid.

R v Whiteside and Dieber, as the case came to be known, received voluminous media attention, and centred around the fact that the killed man had been gay. Sentences handed down struck many as inadequate; what ensued is what generally goes by the name of "a public outcry". Victorian Premier Steve Bracks pushed for an inquiry into sentencing, and the Director of Public Prosecutions sought leave to appeal against the disposition. The Court of Appeal sent Whiteside and Dieber back to prison.

The seminar will take R vs Whiteside and Dieber as the starting point for reflection on freedom and its contradictions. Its aim is to introduce some of the concepts developed by modern dialectical philosophy, in its materialist and idealist strains, and show how they might help us to put practices of legal judgment into social context.

Civic Education
Bryan Cooke

The Power of Cliché: An Aphoristic Perspective
Cameron Shingleton

In 1912 the satirist Karl Kraus was heard to opine that events no longer came to pass – that clichés did the entire work by themselves. Assuming that he didn’t have his tongue entirely in his cheek, what did he mean? Kraus’ vision of the world is one in which language has a power of its own that can easily exceed that of individual human beings and individual societies and effectively creates them in its own image: a particular problem in modern mass societies, where cliché and euphemism proliferate and a strange air of solecism can seem to pervade just about everything. The session will take Kraus as a starting point for looking at some of the surreal dead verbiage of today. What are the master clichés of the contemporary English-speaking world? What are the distinctive Australian ones? And, above all, what sorts of human beings do they create in their image? The question will be asked of a range of language forms, from those whose native habitat is the advertising, politics and patriotism of our time to those that mould the worlds of journalism and the academy, and, finally, the vexed, self-vexing world of contemporary poetry and literature.

Industrial Relations: A Critical Theoretical Perspective
Matthew Sharpe

The seminar will cast a critical glance at recently enacted Australian workplace relations laws. Our prime point of interest will be the ideology out of which the reforms have been born: the economic neo-liberalism championed initially by Hayek in Road to Serfdom and elsewhere.