Terrence Malick’s film A Hidden Life depicts the life of the Austrian World War II conscientious objector and Catholic martyr Franz Jägerstätter, executed by the Nazis for his refusal to serve the cause of the Reich and swear allegiance to the Führer. Is Jägerstätter’s sacrifice best understood in religious terms, or can it be conceived within a secular moral framework? In the latter case, might it be understood as giving credence to a moral realism in which moral truth-claims are undergirded by metaphysical facts, or rather as divested of any transcendental sanction? In this article I argue for the latter interpretation, and describe how Jägerstätter’s act demonstrates the highest moral purpose in an existential-humanist sense.

Published in Overland Literary Journal online, April 3rd 2020:

Thinking about Jägerstätter: the making of moral meaning

February 18th, 2020



I wanted to take this opportunity to express how grateful and honoured I feel for my novel K. the Interpreter to be selected alongside my fellow short-listees for the 2020 Dorothy Hewett Award. I salute Terri-ann White and the UWAP, and the Copyright Agency, for making the award possible, and the three judges for taking the long time to engage all the entered works, and offer heartfelt congratulations to Angela, Caitlin, Robin, Kylie, and Karen, for the fruition of their literary labour. Let us never work in vain!


Unfortunately, I can’t be in Perth tonight on the 21st, as I haven’t travelled by air since 2011, and am too impecunious to get to Perth, from Sydney, by train. Without wanting to hijack proceedings, I do want to briefly explain my absence. At the latter end of what has proved an unprecedented bushfire season in this country, it seems to me loud and clear that Australia, as elsewhere, is now faced with the fundamental challenge of securing existential security into the future.


Achieving that will and already does require the willingness to forego consumer convenience, to boycott existing fossil-fuel industries, and to make these substantial changes in one’s daily experience: to drive less, or not at all, and cease inessential air-travel which remains one of the major forms of CO2 emissions globally, and is growing worse. A very steep reduction of current emissions levels is now absolutely determinative: failing to achieve this will mean a collective failure to address the problem. Business as usual is over. We are moving into a radically new post-carbon age, or we are signing up for our own demise. Critical times call for critical measures—and they have to start now. Leaving it for tomorrow will be too late.


My thanks again to Terri-ann and the UWAP, the three judges, and my warmest congratulations to the winner of the 2020 Dorothy Hewett Award.


Thank you.

Martin Kovan

K. the Interpreter

Novel, written 2018-19.

K the Interpreter is a narrative emerging from contemporary global fault-lines between the powerful and the dispossessed, and the concealed truths and open deceptions that sustain a fictional status quo. It tells the interwoven story of individuals negotiating these rifts in the real, seeking to maintain integrity, as well as existential security, against overbearing odds. Traversing East and West, obscurity and infamy, its crises converge in a conclusion that appears as inevitable as it is shocking.

K. the Interpreter is shortlisted for the Dorothy Hewett Award 2020, under the auspices of UWA Publishing (Director Dr. Terri-ann White) and the Copyright Agency. Warm congratulations to all short-listed writers: Angela Gardner, Caitlin Maling, Kylie Mirmohamadi, Robin Riedstra and Karen Wyld. For more on the shortlisted works, in poetry and fiction, see: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0542/4573/files/DHA20_Shortlist_Announcement.pdf?55

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An Island Emissary

Short story, in Southerly Journal, Issue 79.1: 80! (published Dec. 7th online in The Long Paddock), at:


Click to access Kovan_An_Island_Emissary_compressed.pdf


NS Island 2

Prose memoir, in Southerly Journal Issue 78.3: Violence (publ. in print May 2019; print edition not free to read online):


The first Buddhist precept prohibits the intentional, even sanctioned, taking of life. However, capital punishment remains legal, and even increasingly applied, in some culturally Buddhist polities and beyond them. The classical Buddhist norm of unconditional compassion as a counterforce to such punishment thus appears insufficient to oppose it. This paper engages classical Buddhist and Western argument for and against capital punishment, locating a Buddhist refutation of deterrent and Kantian retributivist grounds for it not only in Nāgārjunian appeals to compassion, but also the metaphysical and moral constitution of the agent of lethal crime, and thereby the object of its moral consequences.

In the Journal of Buddhist Ethics Vol. 26 (March, 2019):


Poem, in Southerly 78.1 Festschrift: David Brooks (print, Oct. 2018)