Having ticker’s not the same as playing the hero
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.
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