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

Juxtaposing Australian and Canadian Writing

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

Juxtaposing Australian and Canadian Writing

Article excerpt

During his visit to Canada, or as he termed it 'Canadia,' in June 2014, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott repeatedly emphasised commonalities between the North American country and his own: 'We are such like-minded comparable countries. We are both multicultural, resource driven federations' (Pedwell), he told a business roundtable in Ottawa. At the Canadian War Museum he reminded his audience: 'Australians and Canadians have been comrades in arms in many of the great struggles of our times from Sudan to Afghanistan' (Sibley). Abbott also used his trip to highlight that he and then Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper hold commensurate views on a variety of issues, including climate change. By presenting the country he governed as a familiar environment, Abbott smoothed the way for Canadian corporate investment in Australia, and by highlighting his and Harper's similar stances on environmental issues he cemented an alliance dedicated to sabotaging international climate agreements.

In this essay, I argue that there are advantages beyond right-wing political expediency in drawing comparisons between the cultures and, more specifically, the literatures of Canada and Australia. Paul Sharrad is correct that 'nations are like ships flying flags of convenience: crewed by people from everywhere and connected to all kinds of ports of call' (26). Uncannily similar settler-colonial pasts, somewhat analogous contemporary political, economic and social presents, and, crucially, comparable geopolitical locations within the Western world mean that those who write of Australia or Canada can often be found navigating in congruent directions around some of the same obstacles. In consequence, juxtaposing literary work that emerges from these territories can produce off-kilter reflections that undermine entrenched notions of national exceptionalism, and draw our attention to textual and cultural phenomena that might otherwise go unnoticed. In response to Haun Saussy's call for more scholarly work juxtaposing texts from outside Europe's boundaries, the Australian-Canadian comparison can also contribute to current efforts to shift the parameters of comparative literary studies; as Ania Loomba points out, 'large chunks of reality' are currently excluded from the field (501). That literature is created in each country by a culturally diverse group of writers, whose collective linguistic range extends far beyond the officially recognised English, or English and French, also makes the Canadian-Australian conjunction a rich one.

Upholding the value of comparing Australian and Canadian literatures is an urgent task at present given that interest in this juxtaposition seems to be diminishing. Robert Dixon and Brigid Rooney note that: 'Broadly speaking, the new world literature paradigm has seen a shift from comparative literature's traditionally bi-national or bi-lingual comparatism to more transnational and even planetary forms of comparatism' (xii). Even when thinking about writing emerging from two countries together is countenanced, the Australia/Canada conjunction tends to be dismissed. In her 2012 Dorothy Green Memorial Lecture, for instance, Elizabeth McMahon argues that the Australia/New Zealand linkage is of greater value on the grounds that the geographical distance between Australia and Canada 'enables each modern nation to preserve its discrete boundaries in ways that might be challenged by proximity' (10). Certainly, Canadian-Australian comparative work of consequence does continue to be undertaken; Julie McGonegal's book on the politics of postcolonial forgiveness and reconciliation, Kylie Crane's study of myths of wilderness in contemporary Australian and Canadian narratives, and Gerry Turcotte's work on the gothic, for example, all constitute important recent contributions. However, what Paul Jay calls 'the transnational turn' (1) in contemporary literature has arguably marginalised such endeavours. This is primarily the case because Australian-Canadian comparative criticism remains so closely associated with Commonwealth and subsequently postcolonial studies. …

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