Jamming the Machinery: Contemporary Australian Women's Writing

By Rowlands, Shane | Australian Literary Studies, October 1999 | Go to article overview

Jamming the Machinery: Contemporary Australian Women's Writing


Rowlands, Shane, Australian Literary Studies


Jamming the Machinery: Contemporary Australian Women's Writing, by Alison Bartlett. ASAL Literary Studies Series. Toowoomba, Qld: Association for the Study of Australian Literature, 1998. Paperback, $29.95.

One of the first collections of its kind, The Space Between anthologises twenty-two Australian women writing fictocriticism that deals with a range of contemporary cultural concerns `in ways that bring together a critical self-consciousness and a self-critical conscience' (Nettelbeck 14). Not intended as a boundary-setting anthology, the introduction considers the slippery and provisional nature of the terminology -- you might know fictocriticism also as fiction-theory, paracriticism, desiring writing, the paraliterary, mystory or postcriticism -- and the unruly, genre-defying nature of much of this work.

As a series of writing strategies which blur distinctions between the literary and the critical, and in which the `critical distance' of the theorist collides with the `interiority' of the author, fictocriticism usually does something other than explication:

   To play upon metaphor and metonymy, to deploy intertextual echoes and
   analogies, to write (back) to a parallel text in a way that invokes that
   absent text but avoids the interpretive gesture: these are all devices that
   point to the simultaneous occurrence of more than one way of reading.
   (Nettelbeck 5-6)

In claiming the post-structural logic of both, fictocritical texts work to open up readings and to multiply the possible sites of reception, thus widening readerships.

A non-interpretive reading of The Space Between might focus on the poetics of recitation, that is, the various kinds of relations to other writers and their texts and the impulses toward engulfing the endnotes. In `Waiting to Dance', Susan Ash rechoreographs The Lover's Discourse by Roland Barthes, writing back from the perspective of an adolescent wallflower. Her method of decoupage, in which excerpts from other sources are embedded in the construction of her text, makes footnoting impossible. Anna Gibbs's theory and practice of haunted writing -- a cut-up method which differs from the liberatory randomness of Breton and Burroughs among others stages a collaboration between Marcel Mauss and Colette:

   The source texts are meant to be forgotten only in so far as this enables
   their rediscovery. To compose a cut-up is both to ghost and be ghosted by
   other writers. [Haunted writing] ... admits its debt to its progenitors
   [whom] it must destroy to come into being itself. (Gibbs 46)

Offering ficto-biography as a sub-category of fictocriticism, Lucy Sussex invents an encounter between two science-fiction writers, Katharine Burdekin and Philip K. Dick, to investigate the clues of her possible influence on his writing. While Sussex's fiction moves in the direction of the critical essay, the strategy of ventriloquism employed by Robyn Ferrell (writing about and as Dorothy Parker) and Sue Gillett (writing as Ada in writing about Jane Campion's The Piano) moves their critical essays in the direction of the literary.

The Space Between proved to be an exhilarating reading experience. Charged by politics, spirit and imagination, these pieces are volatile, meditative, engaging, experimental and inspirational. I was often excited by a sense of `discovering' writers from other fields, including Deane Fergie's brilliant unpacking of the notion of autobiography within anthropology, and Linda Marie Walker's innovation in challenging the hierarchy of written text and commitment to opening up new relationships between visual art, popular images and writing.

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