Australian Literature: Postcolonialism, Racism, Transnationalism

Australian Literature: Postcolonialism, Racism, Transnationalism

Australian Literature: Postcolonialism, Racism, Transnationalism

Australian Literature: Postcolonialism, Racism, Transnationalism


The Oxford Studies in Postcolonial Literatures series offers stimulating and accessible introductions to definitive topics and key genres and regions within the rapidly diversifying field of postcolonial literary studies in English.

In a provocative contribution to the series, Graham Huggan presents fresh readings of an outstanding, sometimes deeply unsettling national literature whose writers and readers just as unmistakably belong to the wider world. Australian literature is not the unique province of Australian readers and critics; nor is its exclusive task to provide an internal commentary on changing national concerns. Huggan's book adopts a transnational approach, motivated by postcolonial interests, in which contemporary ideas taken from postcolonial criticism and critical race theory are productively combined and imaginatively transformed. Rejecting the fashionable view that Australia is not, and that Australian literature, like other settler literatures, requires close attention to postcolonial methods and concerns. A postcolonial approach to Australian literature, he suggests, is more than just a case for a more inclusive nationalism; it also involves a general acknowledgement of the nation's changed relationship to an increasingly globalized world. As such, the book helps to deprovincialize Australian literary studies.

Australian Literature also contributes to debates about the continuing history of racism in Australia-a history in which the nation's literature has played a constitutive role, as both product and producer of racial tensions and anxieties, nowhere more visible than in the discourse it has produced about race, both within and beyond the national context.


Towards the end of 2005, as this book was nearing completion, there were ugly scenes at Cronulla and other beachside suburbs in Sydney. White and Lebanese youth squared off in a series of violent inpromptu encounters which, leaving bystanders bruised and property vandalized, propelled a nation that had long prided itself on its reputation for interethnic tolerance into a state of much-publicized collective shock. Were these race riots or not? Perhaps, as Cornel West had argued of the much more serious upheavals in LA more than a decade before, easy terms such as ‘race riot’ and ‘class rebellion’ are not applicable in such cases; rather, what was being witnessed in Cronulla and elsewhere was a ‘multi-racial, trans-class display of justified social rage’ (West 1994: 3). ‘There is no escape from [the] interracial interdependence [of America]’, suggested West in the wake of the 1992 turmoil in LA, ‘yet enforced racial hierarchy dooms us as a nation to collective paranoia and hysteria—the unmaking of any democratic order’ (West 1994: 8).

Does a similar situation apply to Australia at the turn of the twentyfirst century? Most Australians would say not, and this book will fall short of saying it either. Australia and America are the products of radically dissimilar histories; and if the Cronulla incidents were not just born of local causes, their social tensions were more obviously illustrative of conditions loosely connected to the global fall-out from 9/11 than the aftershock of LA. Still, parallels exist between the two cases, despite their obvious differences of scale and context. As West argues in the American case, ‘To engage in a serious discussion of race we must begin not with the problems of black people but with the flaws of American society—flaws rooted in historic inequalities and longstanding cultural stereotypes’ (West 1994: 6). Racism, West suggests, is deeply embedded within the foundational structures of American society. So too, it could be argued, in Australia, for all its official commitment to multiculturalism and social egalitarianism . . .

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