Saturday, November 12, 2005

Whatever happened to Aust Lit?

'The Australian literary traditions that might connect us most closely to our own society seem to have less and less traction,' writes Nicholas Jose in his essay 'A Shelf of Our Own' in this month's Australian Book Review. 'Even to think of Australian writing as a category of its own is starting to sound a little odd ... Australian literature has been squeezed by globalisation in the market place, intellectual fashion in the academy and opposition to cultural intervention in the public sphere.' National constructs, he argues, are now viewed with suspicion and the category 'literature' has become likewise suspect.

Can any of this be denied? Would you want to try? As distinct, I mean, from wishing it otherwise.

Trundling wide-eyed around the blogosphere after the fashion of Leunig's Vasco Pyjama except with no direction-finding duck, I've found only a few blogs that could be said to belong even loosely to the 'Aust Lit' category and it's interesting to see that poets on the whole make far better bloggers than writers in any other genre apart, of course, from journalists proper; Chris Mansell and Jill Jones both maintain blogs where their own poems appear, while Alison Croggon runs the impressive Theatre Notes and its spinoff Critic Watch.

I've found only one blog fully dedicated to Australian literature as such and that's Perry Middlemiss's admirable Matilda.

A sort of scrapbook or day book of information, gossip, ruminations and what someone (also in ABR) has unkindly called 'spasms of assertion' is what I have in mind. Comments are always welcome.


  1. Welcome to the strange, lonely world of weblogs, and thanks for the note.

    Like you I have been somewhat bemused by the lack of weblogs which deal with Australian literature. There are a few but not many, and most tend to be personal weblogs which mention literature in passing. This absence was the one of the reasons why I started my own little endeavour.

    The other reason was to act as a "nudge", prodding me into reading more modern Australian literature in order to widen my pathetic knowledge of this genre. It seems to be working; I've certainly read more Australian novels this year than I can remember previously. So something good has come of it.

  2. Hi Perry!

    I began this venture as an exercise in academic responsibility; I co-examine a lot of Hons and MA theses at the end of each academic year, and last year there was some really good stuff in them about blogging, of which I knew nothing. Thought I'd better learn about it PDQ & the best way to learn was to do - set this one up as an exercise, really, but it would be nice if it turned into something people could use as a resource or a bulletin board or whatever.

    I have another more personal one, also a self-education strategy, using an alias; I chat there about various things so of course get more people crossing my path. But in a funny way anonymity is as much of a strain as the alternative. Your posts here have inspired me to get back to this one and kick it along, so thanks v much!

  3. I've found I have to produce Matilda for myself. I was hoping for a bit of interplay between readers but it happens so rarely I've given up on it. I reckon it's because I don't make enough comments on what goes on. I tend more to the Bookslut approach, rather than the Grumpy Old Bookman posting style. Just what I'm comfortable with I guess.

    Oddly enough I've had a number of personal emails from authors who don't want to comment on the weblog's comment pages. This may be because the email address is being shown. Not sure about that. I see authors in the UK and US posting to weblogs all the time. Any publicity is probably a good thing.

    The other problem with Australian weblogs is getting known. And that's a topic for another time - email me if you want some hints. Though I'm certainly not an expert on the matter.

  4. Hi Kerryn, terrific to see an established academic, writer and critic get into this at last. Perry and I have both asked the question in your post, where is everybody??? I have a few links over at my blog too (please check out the newer version at, You Cried for Night).
    I tend to muse along about blogging in general as well as writing, so perhaps have slipped into the category Perry mentions here. Your comments on the stress of anonymity are really interesting, by the way. Congratulations on getting into this, I wish more of the literary establishment would give it a go - Cordite has a blog, and there are lots of poets, so I don't know where the fiction is at. A blog would go down great guns at Text Publishing, IMHO.

  5. Genevieve, lovely to see some traffic starting up on what began life as a practice blog. I've actually been reading You Cried for Night for a while, but thought it might be misleading to any stray reader to list it as strictly an Aust Lit blog, as you have obviously broadened your scope. I've got a separate and pseudonymous blog and that's where all my general chat goes.

    Among academics, even close friends with a specialist interest in Aust Lit just seem to snort indulgently and not really focus when I say I've taken up blogging. I think it's one of those things that's dismissed out of hand by people who don't know much about it. And to be fair, most academics spend all the time they have working on their compulsory ARC grant applications, as far as I can make out. But I hope to make a few converts, gradually, here and there.

    I'd love to see what you make of the meme!

  6. i don't think time is exactly on the side of many Australian writers, critics, publishers or academics teaching Ozlit courses. However it would be interesting to get more material (journal articles especially) online and see what audience is out there for Australian writing, especially among the litblog readers overseas who also include publishers. I think Anna Hedigan had a go at the Oz journals a while back over this on the Cordite site.

    The new director of the Melbourne Writers' Festival did suggest rather mischievously on her appointment that perhaps the whole thing (i.e.the festival)would be online in a few years' time. I feel our scene gathers much strength from face to face networking, however it would be interesting to see what younger readers and writers make of a greater online presence for Australian litcrit, talk and publishing.

    I certainly hope more of your colleagues follow you, Kerryn. I agree my blog's a bit bloated and I'm having a trim at present - may even dip out if you can bring some more specialists on board! as my interest has increasingly moved towards media issues.

  7. It's not just readers and critics that I'd like to see online, I'd also like to see more Australian authors getting involved. Margo Lanagan, Justine Larbalestier and John Birmingham are out there - and that's all I know of.

    The feedback's the thing. As I implied earlier, my weblog was designed for an audience of one - me - so while comments are good I don't rely on them to maintain my enthusiasm. All of the UK and US authors who blog appear to be getting a lot of feedback, so the writers are staying in touch with their readers. This must help sustain them between the short-lived over-supply they have to endure on publicity tours. Anyway, they're quite diverting if nothing else.