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The Forum > Article Comments > Australian literature on the nose? > Comments

Australian literature on the nose? : Comments

By Georgina Hibberd, published 9/10/2006

Is Australian literature suffering a slow and painful death?

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I'm interested by your comments, Georgina, especially by the question of whether it is important to have a national literature. I have never been sure to what extent literature written in Australia or by Australians could be said to be a distinct category. I imagine we would call Patrick White an Australian, but when I read _The Living and the Dead_ it doesn't strike me as being part of "Australian Literature", and I don't see a problem in that. The same could be said of Malouf's _An Imaginary Life_. Both are part of Western Literature and, more specifically, of Literature in English, but I’m not sure how much further we can narrow it down.

I read and study literature by and about Australia. My masters thesis compared White’s _Voss_ with a historical novel from the same era by Erico Verissimo, an author from the southern Brazilian state where I have lived for nearly eight years. Their representations of colonial culture are surprisingly similar, despite the differences between the two historical contexts. For my doctorate, I am working on a similar comparison between Henry Lawson and one of his southern Brazilian contemporaries, Simoes Lopes Neto.

You say that “the whole idea of ‘nation’ has loosened”: in the case of my feelings about literature, that is certainly true. I am often asked by people here in Brazil about “Australian Literature” and I usually say that the literature I identify as “mine” is the literature of English: the literature of my language, not of my nation. Milton and Jane Austen, for example, are unequivocally part of “my literature”. Just as the culture I am living in is clearly a Latin culture, I have come to see my Australian culture as a British culture. When I meet a Canadian, for example, as I did today, quite by chance, I almost invariably feel that we are part of the same cultural world, that the cultural distance from Sydney to Toronto is no greater than from Sydney to Perth or to Auckland.

Anyway, I’m out of space. I’d love to hear more from you.
Posted by Ian, Monday, 9 October 2006 12:25:58 PM
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Ian, yes I’d have to agree with you takes on White and Malouf, Tim Winton - and others for that matter. All express a 'white Australianness' that only other 'white Australians' can appreciate, even indulge, as 'Australian literature'.

For ‘Others’, we understand and appreciate good writing, but we also understand its not written for ‘us’, either deliberately, and if it is, its usually quite abhorrent.

They all share an epistemological common ground of being disconnected, yet connected to the literary psyche and expectation of those who would argue we have something called 'Australian literature'. Go to any writer’s festival and the carnivalesque wonderment of / and for this apparent genre of 'literature' fills the air.

“I wrote this book because I wanted to capture the Australian blah blah blah”.

An imagined Australia, an imagined literary culture, an imaginary national positioning.

There is no Australian arts and literature renaissance, just a post materialist / post colonial culture that feeds off itself for validation, both here and afar.

Mind you the duel between Lawson and Paterson provided great insights into this conundrum of identity
Posted by Rainier, Saturday, 4 November 2006 7:54:41 PM
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Part 1:
I am now a retired post-secondary teacher(Tafe and CsAE). I taught the last literature class offered in Tafe in WA in 1994 and the last History class(ancient and modern) that same year. As far as i know English Literature and History(TEE level) have not come back into Tafe and so the demise of interest in Australian literature I am conscious in my corner. But it is alive in my house and here is an item I wrote yesterday with thanks to Patrick White
SMALL DOSES(dedicated to Patrick White)

Being able to decisively attach one’s prose to the created rhythm of one’s time and age, to the psycho-historical mood and affective state of a society in its many dispositions and tempers; or being able to detach one’s prose from one’s age in a clean and straightforward way is difficult. In my case, the result is uneven, a little simplistic at times, some might say supercilious and pretentious and, even if it does bear the weight of my preoccupations, the weight is too heavy for many readers. Perhaps my oeuvre in all its genres is too ambitious in its range and depth; perhaps it tries to diagnose too much over too extensive a field of content. My diagnostic intelligence, if I can call it that, probes. For some people who read my work the affect, I’m sure, is deadening. For others there is a vitality and for still others there is no affect at all.
Posted by Bahaichap, Friday, 2 March 2007 11:01:02 PM
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.....the writing of poetry, As A.D. Hope would have put it, his particular take on history, is a 'dance of life.' A.D. Hope once defined the art of poetry this way. Some pedestrian or not-so-pedestrian person in Australian culture, now or at some time in its history, acquires a fresh new life with a compactness, an economy of language, a concern for things as they really happened, as the nineteenth century historian Leopold von Ranke would have expressed the recording of history--and they write.

Many Australian writers do what Karl Popper advocates in his The Poverty of Historicism. They consciously introduce "a preconceived point of view" into their history and write "that history which interests" them; they do not twist the facts until they fit a framework of preconceived ideas; if they are good writers they do not neglect the facts that do not fit in.

Popper says that such an approach, that is the introducing of a preconceived point of view, should be seen as one that begins with a scientific hypothesis. Such a focus of historical interest, Popper emphasizes, is a historical interpretation. Of course one should endeavour, as far as possible, to know the facts of history but, as Kant once argued, it is difficult if not impossible to know the facts, the reality, of things. The real use in knowing what happened in history lies in the interpretation of history's facts, its events. The re-creation of a life is one of the most beautiful and difficult tasks a literary artist can perform.
Veronica begins her biography of Judith Wright with the following:

"A poet's life, any life, is a process of unfolding realization… a responsibility for poetic values, poetry is a way not only of knowing but also of living in the world, straining towards feelings of consciousness in which what is outside is fused with what lies within the self." - Veronica Brady, introduction to South of My Days: A Biography of Judith Wright, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1998.
...much Australian literature begins here in this process of unfolding realization.
Posted by Bahaichap, Monday, 5 March 2007 2:25:27 PM
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