The Humber Mouth - Hull Literature Festival 2000 - Thursday 9th November - Sunday 19th November 2000
Critical Eye

Monday 13th November - 8.00pm Review Hull Truck Theatre
Critical Eye Germaine Greer

At the end of her performance, Germaine Greer stood up and read out a request for a message of support from the local Zero Tolerance campaign.
With a look of disbelief she declared 'This is the kind of thing which keeps me awake at nights. I mean, if I say I am against violence to women, does it mean that I support violence against dogs, or what?' Greer then shrugged, pulled a face, smiled, and finally blew several kisses into the audience. While the audience comprised mainly women, this was not an interview about feminist issues. Above all, the event was about the helplessness of celebrity, with Greer typically (but infuriatingly) caught up in a confusion of impulses, unsure whether to joke, mock, flirt, answer the question, or all four.

Greer spoke for nearly two hours, mostly uninterrupted and unchallenged, and began her talk with the statement that the English 'aren't interested in ideas, only in biography', then spoke at length about private concerns, gave dinner party anecdotes and witty (if sometimes recycled) replies to audience questions. Not embarrassed about contradicting herself, Greer claimed she hadn't read the recent biography 'Untamed Shrew', then recounted how she was going through it page by page, writing her own 'correct' version of events.

As ever with Greer, she was genuinely entertaining. In response to a question about what advice she'd give a five month old girl, Greer looked bewildered and said 'Just keep breathing, kid'. When asked about the views she expressed in The Female Eunuch', she said she'd written it when she was 'thirty odd - probably more odd than thirty'.

Throughout the event there was the feeling that Greer trades more in witty deflections than in serious ideas, and this achieves two things. Firstly, Greer gets her applause quickly. Secondly, she avoids having to extend her arguments or risk having them exposed to closer scrutiny. When Greer did express ideas, she chose to make broad generalizations about, for example, Aborigines, women, children (and dogs) without any doubt about her ability or appropriateness as spokesperson, and without acknowledging any differentiation of interests within such groups. One suspects that even the dogs might feel uneasy.

Having said all this, Greer exudes charisma, and I think few people were immune to the sense of excitement when she made her entrance. Even if Greer is only feminist insofar as the media chooses to construct her as such, and only a thinker insofar as she provokes others into thought, there is something truly exhilarating about her ability to speak her mind. I left the theatre feeling frustrated, annoyed, provoked, and with dozens of questions in my mind which I'd been unable to ask. It has been said many times that it is Greer's strength of delivery and almost unrivalled skill as a polemicist which many find inspirational; a perfect choice for the Humber Mouth.

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Critical Eye
Maggie Hannan is the festival's resident web site critic.
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