Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Robert Dixon, the incoming chair of Australian literature at Sydney Uni, has weighed into the ongoing brouhaha about Australian literature studies. His piece is published, it is important to remark, in The Australian. The newspaper has been in the vanguard of criticism, publishing pieces by Rosemary Neill that cater to the baser instinct of nationalism, rather than reflecting the real situation in academe. I noted a recent story by Neill and added snippets from an interview with Dixon that was published recently in the alumni magazine that is put out by Sydney Uni.

Edmund Champion brought today's contribution to the debate, to my attention. He had included it in one of his regular 'roundups'.

The article is worth reading carefully.

Dixon refuses to participate in the unedifying spectacle that Neill has promulgated in the pages, and on the Web site, of the right-leaning broadsheet. The discourse she participates in resembles that which our conservative prime minister uses when dealing with the liberal elites.

"What we are well placed to do now is explore and elaborate the many ways in which the national literature has always been connected to the world," he writes. (The entire piece, of which this article is an extract, is to be published in Southerly, one of the oldest cultural periodicals this country produces.)

"The question is how to transcend the boundaries of the nation so that Australian issues, texts and personnel can be embedded in international research agendas and networks that have as much to offer us as we have to offer them."

I have picked these two quotes out of the whole to illustrate my own feelings. One of the projects he posits as desirable is "From Australian literature to literature in Australia: A transnational approach would involve shifting from the study of Australian literature, narrowly conceived, to something like literature in Australia, especially the history of the book and reading formations."

This seems a lot more useful and reflective of the reality in the country at present, than imposing artificial boundaries that are evidence only of a parochial attutide toward literature and culture in general. Australians are very outward-looking, especially those living in the big cities on the coast.

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