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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A little bit more about Earani

Just to add a coda to my previous post, one of the intriguing things, but also one of the fascinating things, about Cox's Out of the Silence is the way the author doesn't seem to be able to make up his mind whether Earani is a monster or a spokesperson. On the one hand, her disparaging remarks about the general quality of Australian politicians seem like a nice case of  ingénue  irony - despite her super-intelligence, she is naive about democratic politics. First she thinks that a democratic nation would naturally elect the best and wisest citizens as its leaders, and then she is shocked to see that it is not so in early-20th-century Australia - as soon as she glimpses some photos of our parliamentarians, she is able to discern their shallowness, incompetence, and greed. In scenes such as this, her mix of intelligence and  naivety about the new world provide Cox with a vehicle for satire.

But at the same time, there's no doubt that we are to regard her as a monster, as Marian Seymour does from the moment they meet, and as Dick Barry increasingly does towards the end of the book.

Of course, when I say that the author "cannot make up his mind" I'm being unfair. It's better to work on the assumption that he knows exactly what he's doing. As an  ingénue, sometimes getting things wrong, Earani provides opportunities for satire; as someone who is superhumanly intelligent and perceptive, she quickly realises (other) things that escape ordinary people; and above all her genocidal plans, together with her almost-merciless dedication to them, make her monstrous. Cox puts her in many situations where we see her interactions with others, and the result is complex and subtle. The twists and turns are enjoyable, and the ambiguities surrounding Earani linger in the memory. That would have been even more so in the 1910s and 1920s, when Earani's actual theories of racial superiority were likely to be considered more plausible - they are never entirely repudiated, although her plans about taking them to their logical conclusion and putting them into practice most definitely are. Even now, when these ideas appear merely foolish and repugnant to anyone likely to read to such a book, there is much about her portrayal that makes her more than just a superhuman, morally-monstrous threat.

Marian, herself a kind of ingénue figure, is a far more sympathetic character than Earani. But Earani can still capture our imaginations.

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