In the eyes of most people, higher education offers students a chance to improve themselves and perhaps move up the social ladder. This is what, back in 1957, Sydney University offered Les Murray, son of a struggling tenant farmer. The young man’s response was confused. He missed classes, failed examinations, dropped out to lead a vagrant life, yet finally returned to complete his degree. In Murray’s own account of that period of his life, he took only what he wanted from the university—the resources of its library—while resisting its more insidious sociopolitical project. But the very vehemence of Murray’s polemic against higher education—a vehemence in which there is more than a touch of hysteria—suggests a supplementary reading: that the young man was as much attracted as repulsed by the promise that submission to the rituals and mysteries of the academy would allow him to shed his origins and be reborn declassed.[via Alan Jacobs]
15 September 2011
Attracted and repulsed.
J.M. Coetzee on Australian poet Les Murray: