Hav­ing ticker’s not the same as play­ing the hero

Christo­pher Bantick

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

COURAGE is not by def­i­ni­tion the prov­ince of he­roes. At least this is Maria Tu­markin’s view. The dis­tinc­tion is im­por­tant. What Tu­markin has pre­sented in this cor­nu­copia of a book is an ar­gu­ment for a reap­praisal of courage. Part au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, part mem­oir, part philo­soph­i­cal ex­plo­ration, Courage is an oddly in­sis­tent book.

What is soon ob­vi­ous is that Tu­markin has a feisty ap­pre­ci­a­tion of courage. She can­not brook the er­satz ver­sion found in the sports pages of news­pa­pers or the adu­la­tory me­dia hype over the ac­ci­den­tal hero whose one- off act is la­belled coura­geous.

I live in a world where ev­ery­one talks about courage but few peo­ple’s lives are re­ally marked by it . . . This book is about the ideas and prac­tices of courage stripped of all the rhetor­i­cal she writes.

For Tu­markin, courage is the ex­pres­sion of small acts of self- de­nial and self- sac­ri­fice. In her ar­got: He­roes con­quer, whether three- headed dragons or their own fears, and he­roes tran­scend — but what about good old messy Mon­day to Fri­day life?’’

As a mea­sure of her in­ter­est in un­ob­tru­sive

bling’,’’ acts of courage, Tu­markin cites en­coun­ters with many coura­geous peo­ple she has met. But while the book is re­plete with vi­gnettes and anec­dotes win­nowed from a life of ob­ser­va­tion and re­flec­tion, Tu­markin en­gages with the idea of courage and why it is prob­lem­atic when con­fused with hero­ism. More than this, while she clearly un­der­stands courage, she also ad­mits with dis­arm­ing self- ef­face­ment to not hav­ing it.

I am no Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa or Anne Frank. And no mat­ter how in­spired I feel by their and other lofty ex­am­ples, I am un­likely to turn the other cheek, to love my en­emy or peo­ple as a whole, to lead a cavalry charge or a revo­lu­tion­ary move­ment.’’ Tu­markin’s ret­i­cence about de­scrib­ing her­self as coura­geous is mis­placed. Her sen­si­tive and

mea­sured as­sess­ment of her Jewish­ness as a girl at school and then her con­fes­sional ad­mit­ting that with noth­ing to push against, be they Holo­caust de­niers or Aus­tralian anti- Semites, I would in­evitably go limp’’, tells us much. Such frank hon­esty takes a par­tic­u­lar kind of courage.

Tu­markin is un­am­bigu­ous in her op­po­si­tion to sen­ti­men­talised rep­re­sen­ta­tions of hero­ism. She ques­tions the va­lid­ity of Steve Ir­win be­ing

in­stantly her­alded as a hero’’ af­ter his death in Septem­ber, 2006.

More pre­cisely, she shows that courage as a de­sir­able virtue, dat­ing from an­cient Greece, can­not be sub­sti­tuted or con­fused with pop­u­lar hero­ism, all the more so when it is of the Ir­win kind.

It is

the

di­ver­sity

of

her

bower

bird- like fes­toon­ing of her ar­gu­ments not with flash­ing blue glass but ex­am­ples from lit­er­a­ture and the street that adds a cer­tain charm to the book. Read­ers can muse on Tu­markin’s de­lib­er­a­tions about Amer­i­can au­thor Dave Eg­gers, who lost both par­ents to can­cer and coura­geously car­ried on to ef­fec­tively be­come a sin­gle par­ent to his pre­pubescent brother’’. Or to the ru­mi­na­tions of an­thro­pol­o­gist Kather­ine Platt who, want­ing to change di­rec­tion in her life, asked: Where does one get the guts?’’

It is this telling ques­tion that Tu­markin tries to an­swer with gusto through­out this re­ward­ing and ed­i­fy­ing book. Christo­pher Bantick is a Melbourne writer and reviewer.

Self- ef­fac­ing: Maria Tu­markin

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