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

Christos Tsiolkas and the Antinomies of (His) Commitment

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

Christos Tsiolkas and the Antinomies of (His) Commitment

Article excerpt

Christos Tsiolkas and the Fiction of Critique: Politics, Obscenity, Celebrity, by Andrew McCann. London: Anthem Press, 2015, 160 pp. US$40 ISBN: 978-1-78308-404-3 (pbk) http://www.anthempress.com/christos-tsiolkas-and-the-fiction-of-critique-pb

I have been anticipating Christos Tsiolkas and the Fiction of Critique: Politics, Obscenity, Celebrity for a number of reasons. Its author, Andrew McCann, can be seen as an exemplar of the sort of homo academicus - to use Pierre Bourdieu's famous phrase-which I myself may one day aspire to become. McCann is an abundantly multi-talented literary scholar who has written, in addition to this book on Christos Tsiolkas, monographs on literary history and radical politics, articles on Continental philosophy, and novels which have been translated into other languages. He has, to use the jargon of the current academic habitus, a proven track record in producing both traditional and non-traditional research outcomes. But these paratextual associations are perhaps irrelevant to McCann's new book. My primary interest in the book resides in an understanding of the significance of the work's subject; and also my attempts at producing some kind of a 'fiction of critique' of my own in the same cultural milieu as Tsiolkas, in contemporary Australia.

Although I will not ab/use this review article as a space to speak about my own fiction, I find it impossible not to declare an interest from the outset: I have been, consciously or otherwise, influenced by Tsiolkas's work, and have come to perceive the literary space in which I and contemporary Australian writers like me-those who identify themselves as politically engaged, and who are identified as originating from a marginal or non-mainstream political, social or other position - as greatly affected by what I'd refer to as the Tsiolkas Position. It would not be an overstatement to say that Tsiolkas's name is a sort of master-signifier for much of what exists in Australia in the way of what one may see, after Sartre's possibly dated albeit foundational definition, as a 'committed' writing practice, a literary production with the aim of presenting 'the subjectivity of a society in permanent revolution' (Sartre 118). Tsiolkas's writings have been, at least in the space of mainstream literary activity - the space of major commercial publishers, major literary awards and so on-the most noticeable instance of a writer 'imbued', as Sartre wrote of the committed writer, 'with the urgency of [the] problems' of socio-political change, conflict and antagonism (220).

I have come to McCann's book with the knowledge that he generally agrees with me apropos of the place of Tsiolkas in contemporary Australian writing. In his 2010 article, 'Christos Tsiolkas and the Pornographic Logic of Commodity Capitalism'-which forms the basis of the third chapter of the volume under review-McCann describes Tsiolkas as 'arguably the most politically and theoretically engaged novelist working in Australia today' (36). While it would not be impossible to contest such a grand statement by naming many other writers, I feel that the size and scale of Tsiolkas's commercial successes and cultural impact justify the evident hyperbole in McCann's claim. Indeed, as McCann readily admits in the preface to Christos Tsiolkas and the Fiction of Critique, it is precisely Tsiolkas's meteoric rise and popularity-as manifested in an article in a British newspaper after the publication of the bestselling, TV-friendly suburban melodrama The Slap-and not the supposed political commitments or radicalism of Tsiolkas's writing which compelled McCann to write this book (x). And while McCann's scholarly interest in Tsiolkas predates the latter's elevation to truly lofty heights of literary stardom and is not reducible to the novelist's current celebrity status-although, needless to say, the word celebrity does appear in the book's title-it is clear that this volume would not have been written, let alone published, had Tsiolkas not been enthroned as one of the major figures in contemporary Australian writing. …

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