Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

Archipelagic Space and the Uncertain Future of National Literatures

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

Archipelagic Space and the Uncertain Future of National Literatures

Article excerpt

There is no world any more, only islands.

(Derrida 9)

Over production, waste and maldistribution, the principal evils of the Western economic 'system' afflict every aspect of its culture. Literature, like everything else, is dominated by the growth myth: the health of a culture is assumed to be determined by its consumable products.

Dorothy Green ('Writer, Reader, Critic')

This essay joins in the discussion about the future of national literatures in the shifting formations of globalisation.1 Specifically, I want to interrogate what we mean by the future when we speak of literature and, specifically, of Australian or New Zealand literature. On both sides of the Tasman numerous scholars have recently turned their attention to questions about national literature, emphasising the volatility of each independent term and of their inter-relationship within the politics of modernity including Europe's colonisation of both countries. Interventions in this debate have been staged across a broad spectrum of perspectives: Australian and New Zealand Studies; Indigenous Studies; Gender Studies; Postcolonial, Transnational and Diaspora Studies; Critical Regionalism; and Knowledge Studies. These discourses challenge the category national literature and characterize the historical moment as postnational and postliterary.

Although Dorothy Green was such a champion of Australian Literature and directly involved in the documentation of its distinctive traditions and characteristics, I don't believe she would have been troubled by these debates. For she was also a great advocate of expanding accepted understandings of nation and literature. In 'The Place of Literature in Society' (1973), for instance, she attributes particular reading pleasures, usually perceived as the products of literary texts, to a range of discourses from philosophy to the natural sciences (Green 149). In this work she also addresses global issues of book production and consumption to highlight disparities based on the disparate distribution of global capital.

Another aspect of her global perspective relates to her humanist aesthetic and ethics, with which she concludes 'The Place of Literature in Society':

To put it in a nutshell literature, either spoken or written, is humanity thinking aloud- communicating its experience of all that is, holding a great continuous conversation throughout the ages and across the world. (16)

For Green, here, what is universal to 'humanity' are the oral and written practices of conceptual and perceptual creativity. Importantly, she does not limit the diversity of such practices according to a Western value system, which is to say the products of 'humanity thinking aloud' are not calibrated by relative merit. Further, her idealist vision simultaneously collapses time and space while insisting on their specificities and distinctions. In all of these observations Green's views are continuous with those that occupy us today at this postnational, postliterary moment. Indeed, this continuity is instructive for the ways it reminds us how Australian literature has long been located and read betwixt nationalist and universalist criteria (Indyk 1986). The history of New Zealand literary criticism exhibits similar traversals and tensions between cultural nationalism and the 'universal' values of art.2 Winston Rhodes, who taught the first courses on New Zealand literature, informally in the 1930s and officially from 1951, was a champion of local literature while also a staunch Socialist and a Leavisite keenly focused on global systems of value in economics, politics and aesthetics (Barrowman 2012). In his study of 1930s literary nationalism in New Zealand, Stuart Murray notes the irony, familiar to Australians also, that New Zealand writers looked abroad for models by which to write their distinctiveness (13). We can now see that both moments of settler cultural nationalism (1890s in Australia, 1930s in New Zealand) are also inseparable from global imperialism and nationalism against which each sought to define itself. …

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