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

Who's Afraid of Poetic Invention? Anthologising Australian Poetry in the New Century

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

Who's Afraid of Poetic Invention? Anthologising Australian Poetry in the New Century

Article excerpt

So this mud map (and the collection itself) represents nothing so fixed as a community, nor a hierarchy of influence (as from teachers to students), but a rhizomatic, dynamic network of enabling connections creating a shifting terrain which will look like a completely different landscape in another ten-or even five-years. . . The point of this cartographic exercise is less to represent and codify what already exists, than to orient the vibrant energies of the present towards a 'something else,' an open possibility unable to be specified in advance.

-Anna Gibbs, Preface to Mud Map

Glaciers and Sausages

The distinction between a canon and a theory of the anthology is one I want to stress at the outset of this essay, something Christopher M. Kuipers exposes in his examination of the Anthology/Corpus dynamic. An anthology is a 'literary storage and communication form: a textbook, (now) a digital archive, (once) a commonplace book' whereas a canon is a changing force, a 'literary-disciplinary dynamic' (51). Finessing this distinction, Kuipers takes 'corpus' to be a vital third term whose impact can be explained using the glacial metaphor, building on work by Wendell V. Harris (1991) and Alistair Fowler (1979):

For the glacier, being on earth and subject to gravity means more than one thing, forcewise: on the one hand, there is internal pressure and downward compaction, leading to a spreading that glaciologists call 'creep,' and on the other hand there is the partial resistance of the surface, over which the glacier also experiences 'slide.' For the canon, being on earth and subject to the accumulating weight of the snow of literary production means experiencing two forces, which I am calling 'anthology' and 'corpus.' . . . anthology and corpus could also be likened, respectively, to the glacial zones of ablation (wasting) and accumulation: what is 'good and bad' about glaciers is not the glacier, or the snow and firn at the top, but what happens at the bottom: all that anthological calving, galloping, melting, and tilling. (Kuipers 56, 58)

This essay is therefore not a gripe about canons; if anything, the gripe is more about the glaciality of corpuses. Far from a gallop, the Australian corpus too slides at a tectonically slow pace, sometimes too slow; what anthologies have scooped up have sometimes not been very potent forces in defining the canon or distinguishing canon from corpus. Whether what these anthologies derive from these bigger forces of production can amount to an Aristotelian 'good' or 'bad' is of concern here but I am not replacing critique with judgement and nor is this, of course, not being a book review, going to be whiny, a category that also has to be considered when it comes to talking about anthologies. This said, the whiny and the aggrieved are both close to the heart of responses to anthologies, well-articulated in an excellent exchange between Sean Shesgreen and those he prosecutes in a special 2009 issue of Critical Inquiry concerning The Norton Anthology of English Literature, its commercial and competitive history with The Longman Anthology of British Literature, and their respective editors, particularly M.H. Abrams of Norton, whose emails he produces as scurrilous evidence. To be aggrieved about anthologies will often involve a complaint. The complaint revolves around inclusion and exclusion; 'Injured authors sound aggrieved, petty, whining, even unbalanced; reviewers look sportive, principled, or disinterested' (307), but such aggrievances in this instance concern the editorship. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt, of Norton, though defensive, chose to respond in an aggrieved tone rather than talk about those issues of anthologies and their commercial life. Affronted, outraged at the 'morals' and 'ethics' of the situation and the 'tabloid'-style use of sources, their attitude was, unsurprisingly given the charges, to go on the defensive rather than into the theoretical questions raised: of just how anthologies get made, how corpuses survive, advance, turn into canons over time. …

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