Australian literature in global world


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This paper was presented at the Association for the Study of Australian Literature annual conference in 2008, during the second year of my PhD candiature, and attempts to locate the Australian publishing industry within the globalisation paradigm.

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Australian literature in global world

  1. 1. Australian literature in a Global World 30th anniversary conference of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature 29th June – 2nd July 2008 University of Wollongong, Function CentreFocus:Trans-global literature stream
  2. 2. Paper title: Is there such a thing aswomen’s popular literary fiction: or is there a move towards a transnational women’s genre fiction?
  3. 3. Carol-Anne Croker PhD candidate Swinburne University of Technology Higher Education Faculty, Lilydale,
  4. 4. • It is the contention of this paper that the rhetoric of crisis articulated in Australian literary circles is actually a backlash against the deconstruction of and criticism of male literary hegemony.• I argue also that this is a global phenomenon rather than one specific to the Australian literary scene.• The popularity of „Chick Lit.‟ as evidenced by global sales data, including in the growth within the small Australian market tells us that the readers of these novels inhabit a shared cultural space, irrespective of the novels‟ countries of origin.
  5. 5. Questions posed by this paperHas the increase in the publication of „Chick Lit‟ abasis in postfeminist times?Is it a backlash by the masculine hegemony inWestern cultures in order to encourage women outof the workplace and back into the realm ofdomesticity, and conservative heterosexualrelationships?Or is this thematic commonality of the novels fromthe global literary–sistahood, especially within theAnglophone cultures, part of a post-feminist orpost-modernist paradigm shift as a result ofglobalization?
  6. 6. Why these specific research questions?• The research for this paper form part of my exegetical work for my PhD in writing. One key focus for the Exegesis is to locate my own creative work/product within its field of knowledge.• My creative work of Artefact is a novel set in the late twentieth century in Australia and looks at the lives of three women, sisters of the second-wave, if you will, and how feminism has or has not impacted their life choices.• Am I writing in a much maligned commercial genre rather than writing literature?
  7. 7. The nexus between commerce, themarket and the writing industry… Is itpopular fiction?In order to locate my own writing within thecontemporary Australian context, I had toposition my exegetical research within thecurrent academic debates within Australianliterature in response to such researchquestions as:
  8. 8. • Has „the death of the Australian literary novel‟ happened, as proposed by some critics?• Have multi-national publishing giants facilitated the production of and dissemination of Australian contemporary literature globally?• Is there actually such a thing as Australian literary novels? Who decides what they entail? Or by whom are the written? Or for whom are they written?• What of popular fiction? Can that be deemed literary?• Why are there so few women writers represented in the apparent canon of Australian contemporary literature?
  9. 9. Death of the novel…. againI think we can safely give this argument a rest. As Katherine Bode points out in her quantitative research and paper presented at the Manifesting literary feminisms conference in Melbourne last year… the number of novels published in Australia is actually on the increase.By referring to the Auslit data base we can see that on average 200 novels are published each year in Australia, a number that has been comparatively stable over the last thirty years or so…
  10. 10. I would argue that this figure is probably an underestimate as the imprints of romance fiction, published by Harlequin, Mills and Boon are not counted in this total, as they are „overseas‟ imprints.According to the Australian Association of Romance Writers, there are 92 women writing and being published in this genre.Luckily for the Chick Lit writers such as Monica MacInnerny her work is counted officially in AusLit because she is published by a major Australian publishing house, albeit one owned by a multinational house.
  11. 11. • Consider for one moment that the Auslit database tracks over 90,000 author entries. (Conference delegate Katherine Bode in JASAL special issue The Colonial Present (p191)This would also explain how the Science Fiction writers’ author database for Australia counts 339 practicing authors.I do not have the statistics for Australian Crime writers or Horror genre writers.
  12. 12. Thus as Conference delegate Jason Ensor states in JASAL 2008 special issue: The Colonial Present (p206)Over the past 120 years the production of Australian fiction… has moved from the publication of high literary texts, historicised now as the “canon”… through a considerable boom period of popular fiction… to an expanded contemporary market favouring not only mainstream genre fiction but a type of fiction that is particularly literary and Australian.
  13. 13. Chick lit., trans-global literature?Whilst conceding that „chick lit.‟ titles appear to be panderingto the demand of their market and readership, themselvessingle, educated, employed young (predominantly white)women, it occurs to me that the mobilization of female desireand romantic escapism lying beneath this popularity is notseriously being addressed by literary critics or academics.The popularity of „chick lit.‟ as evidenced by global salesdata, including within the small Australian marketdemonstrates that the readers of these novels inhabit ashared cultural space, irrespective of the novels‟ countries oforigin. When global business enterprises become involvedwith a particular phenomenon and see dollars to be madefrom it, one can no longer view it as a localized issueaffecting particular writers or publishing houses.
  14. 14. Thus I agree with Bode and Ensor that the time has come to research with all the tools and methodologies at hand, both quantitative and qualitative to illuminate the field of Australian literature/fiction.For my research, I am indeed still questioning the disproportionate attention afforded to a handful of Australian authors in the mainstream media and on the festival circuit and how this „canonisation‟ of novels continues unabated despite the research showing a broader and more complex picture of Australian literature.
  15. 15.  Is there actually such a thing as Australian literary novels? Who decides what they entail? By whom are the written? Or for whom are they written?
  16. 16. So is Colleen Mc Culloch a literary author?A popular fiction writer? A genre writer? Or all of the above?
  17. 17. Since 2000 Neilson BookScan provides weekly data to theindustry on what books are sold by tracking barcodes fromover 80% of retail outlets. This data is collated bygenre, author, release date, and seller demographic.Not surprisingly many of the titles and sub-categories ofthe ‘general fiction’ classification as tracked byBookScan (Neilson BookScan 2007), could be describedas women‟s fiction, i.e., written by, about and forwomen. Perhaps the prominence of novels written by, forand about women explains the claim that the AustralianLiterary Novel is in crisis. There is a long history ofcritics, academics and commentators ignoring theimportance of women‟s popular fiction in themarketplace, and women authors‟ novels place within the„male‟ literary canon.
  18. 18. In Australia, „chick lit.‟ as a sub-genre of generalfiction is yet to have a separate classification byBookScan, whereas „erotic fiction‟ is classifiedseparately. Are we to assume that „chick lit.‟ sitswithin the catch-all classification „general fiction‟ anderotic fiction must therefore be by definition, „literary‟?Or should this be a sub-genre of „chick lit‟; the sub-genre I have dubbed ‘clit lit’; a form of contemporaryerotic writing by women for women‟). Two Australianauthors‟ novels I position within this sub-category, include Tobsha Lerner‟s Quiver (Lerner1998) and Linda Jaivin‟s Eat Me (Jaivin 1995). Butapparently, these are presumed to be literary ratherthan general fiction.
  19. 19. Trans-global literature or shared cultural space?• How can we identify the shared cultural space inhabited by the readers of „chick lit‟?• Is it post fin de siécle ennui that sees cynicism and world weariness as a selling factor in popular culture?• Why are there so many protagonists quick with the one-liner and put down phrase populating the women‟s fiction category at present?• Are women readers finding empowerment through vicarious identification with these less-than perfect size- zero women?• Are we witnessing a reaction against the backlash propaganda that women in the thirties are „at their use-by date‟ biologically speaking? Or perhaps a reassurance that women with education can actually find a mate in their social milieu and not have to „marry down‟?• Is it also reassuring for women readers that not all the men in the novels are married or gay and some eligible partners can be found for relationships?
  20. 20. I contend that it is more than thematic commonality. Theneed to ask the earlier questions points to post-secondwave reactivity. I suspect; that „chick lit.‟ has its basis inpostfeminist times; a political backlash by the masculinehegemony in Western cultures seeking to encouragewomen out of the workplace and back into the realm ofdomesticity, and conservative heterosexualrelationships? I would also argue that „chick lit.‟ is not a„new‟ women‟s fiction as is touted by some in thepublishing industry, because the women writers andreaders of these titles are not seeking to define in printwomen‟s sexuality and desire within contemporarysociety. Or at least not in any „new‟ approach that couldbe viewed as non-phallocentric nor challenges thestatus quo.
  21. 21. An interesting anomaly is that the novels written inAustralia are not easily identifiable as Australian. Itis as if the American, and then British structuralframes devised to house this genre have beensimply transplanted directly to the world of urbanAustralia. The only identifiers are differentcolloquial speech patterns, yet the popular culturalreferences remain the same (JimmyChoos, ManoloBlahniks, Fendi, Ermes, Prada, Versace, Gucci, D&G, Bollinger, Moet etc). This is a major departurefor the content of Australian literature, which inturn demands a closer critical analysis of whatmakes this genre popular with Australian readersand audiences.
  22. 22. The lack of the „local‟•Is it simply the ongoing coca-colonisation of theAustralian culture that has been increasinglyobvious since the 1980s?•Does our highly urbanized population find thepioneer and bush tropes found in our literaryrepresentations of Australia to be anachronistic?•Is it specifically the lack of Australianiconography that makes the genre popular withAustralia‟s Gen X and Y?
  23. 23. This seems to be a remobilizing of a cultural cringe similar to thatresponsible for the exodus of creative talent in the 1960s. Or morelikely, is it simply the US economic hegemony, servicing thepolitical needs of patriarchal global capitalism, which isplayed out through the lens of popular culture?How can we share a thirst for homogenized, westernisedcultural artefacts with other nations? So how different are we toour US or British cousins?Is our popular literature a reflection on a trans-nationalconsumer culture pandered to by the multinational consumergoods manufacturers?I suspect that all these elements coalesce to generate new genresof literature, such as „chick lit.‟, which foregrounds issues ofconsumerism, narcissism, and social alienation in urbanenvironments, most specifically through the ‘You’ve Got (e) Mail’digital networks.
  24. 24. When chick lit readers use the term escape, usually theyare referring to the act of escaping from and notescaping to.’ (Lynch Cooke 2006)It is this very act of disengaging with the issues thatyoung women are facing in the „real world‟ that ensure„chick lit.‟ never achieves a subversive literary positionand can never be the new women‟s literature of thetwenty-first century.The novels allow women to feel empowered to „makethemselves feel (momentarily) happy‟, „have a goodlaugh‟, „enjoy the solitary pastime of reading‟ but neverengender a desire to challenge the wider status quo.Thus, the large multi-national publishing houses and film-making conglomerates are laughing all the way to thebank.