Richard King launches new book at Notre Dame

Richard King with his new book, On Offence, at The University of Notre Dame Australia

13 September 2013

Richard King, a respected literary critic and an academic at The University of Notre Dame Australia, launched his new book, On Offence, at the University’s Fremantle Campus on Thursday 12 September.

"Everywhere one looks, offence is being taken," Mr King writes in On Offence. "Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad ones, but nearly always in a way that implies that offence is something regrettable in itself. Respect and offence are fast becoming the 'good cop, bad cop' of a new mood of censoriousness, of self-pity and self-righteousness."

Mr King has always been keenly interested in free speech issues. Over the past decade, he has written numerous essays and articles defending the right to free expression. Together with his literary reviews, Mr King’s articles have appeared in The Australian and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers as well as numerous journals and magazines.

It was while writing these essays that Mr King identified a distinct shift in the way freedom of speech was regarded and discussed in modern society.

“And so I decided to write a book defending that right (to free speech) and defending, too, the difficult and demanding principle at its core – namely that freedom of speech is meaningless unless it includes the freedom to offend,” Mr King told the Notre Dame community.

“As I began to study the topic, it became increasingly clear that offence had become a kind of political currency – whipped up and weaponised, not just by politicians, but by anyone with an axe to grind. A question began to form in my mind: How did we arrive at a state of affairs in which the charge of offence is so compelling?

On Offence is my attempt to answer that question.”

In his book, Mr King states, "This book is founded on three convictions, that the principle of free speech is meaningless unless it includes the freedom to offend; that the claim to find something hurtful should be the beginning of the debate, not the end of it; and that the modern fetish for sensitivity is corrosive of genuine civility."

Notre Dame was pleased to host the launch of On Offence, which has received rave reviews from fellow authors and literary critics:
“I dare say a great many people will be offended by Richard King's ‘On Offence’. Good. They can take a deep breath, count to ten, pull themselves together, and come to terms with what King convincingly demonstrates is integral to the functioning of civil society. This is a calm, clever, and lucid book that deserves the widest readership.” Gideon Haigh.

“In any English-speaking newspaper, of whatever altitude, news and culture tend to be separated by a rabbit-proof fence, but Richard King has been given a free hand to make news out of culture, and without trivialising the second thing in favour of the first.” Clive James.

Mr King has a Masters Degree in Literary History, is a freelance writer and a lecturer within the Academic Enabling and Support Centre at The University of Notre Dame Australia.

Leigh Dawson: Tel (08) 9433 0569; Mob 0405 441 093;