Books: The Meaning of Recognition |
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The Meaning of Recognition

New Essays 2001–2005

To Ian McEwan
No fixed idea except to avoid fixed ideas.
Robert Musil

Website Introduction

My sixth collection of essays, The Meaning of Recognition came out from Picador in hardback in 2005, and in paperback in late 2006. The opening title essay began its life as a lecture given in response to my being awarded the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal for Literature in 2003, and the long closing essay “Save Us from Celebrity” was first delivered as a lecture to the Australian Commercial Radio Conference in 2004. Sandwiched in between, the numerical majority of pieces in the book were, however, commissioned as magazine and newspaper articles in the normal way, and even today I continue to accept such work with a view to putting it all together in book form when the time is ripe.


Some of these essays first appeared as articles in the TLS, the London Review of Books, the Spectator, the Independent, the Guardian, the Sunday Times, the Australian, the Australian Book Review, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Review of Books and the New Yorker. The essay about Primo Levi’s biographers was included in As of This Writing, a selection of my essays published in the US by W. W. Norton in 2003, but has not previously appeared in book form elsewhere. The Independent obituary for Sarah Raphael was reprinted along with contributions from Frederic Raphael and William Boyd in a memorial pamphlet of her drawings published in 2004. Two of the pieces began as public lectures: Our First Book was an address given at the invitation of the State Library of New South Wales in 2002, and The Meaning of Recognition was my acceptance address in Mildura when receiving the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal in 2003. Both lectures were later printed by the Australian Book Review. Printed here as an essay, Save Us from Celebrity was a conference paper given to the Australian Commercial Radio Association on the Gold Coast in 2004. In many cases, production cuts have been restored, and in most cases a postscript has been added: a device I have taken to in recent years so as to amplify or correct a point in the light of later events, rather than, by rewriting the original piece, to confer on it a bogus prescience. If the critic can’t criticize himself, he shouldn’t be criticizing anything. My thanks as always to the editors and commissioners concerned. Several of the pieces, minus their footnotes, have been available on while waiting to be incorporated into this book. For help with the website, which also features radio and television interviews, I owe a special debt to my generous young cybernaut colleagues and their futuristic expertise. A multimedia website is a marvellous thing to see. The book, however, not much changed since Gutenberg, is still the breakthrough in communications technology that leaves me wondering how anybody ever thought of it.