Saturday, December 10, 2011

Draft program of 2012 AAALS Conference

2012 AAALS Conference

"Trans-Hemispheric Connections" 

Delta Chelsea Hotel, Toronto 

Thursday, February 16

6-8 PM, Reception

Friday, February 17

8 to 9 am continental breakfast

9 AM welcome 

9: 15-10:30 am Session 1 Transnational Texts. John Scheckter, Chair 

"Francis Webb's Canada," Toby Davidson, Macquarie University. 

"Stepping into America in Australian Literature." David Callahan, University of Aveiro, Portugal

 "The Banality of Evil: Family Trauma and Everyday Violence in Animal Kingdom", Eva Rueschmann, Hampshire College. 

"Epistemological Crisis: Place, Nation, and Identity in Eve Langley and Robin Hyde," Sophie Clarke, University of New South Wales.

10:30-10:45 break 

10:45-12 Session 2  Para-Indigenous Discourses, Per Henningsgaard, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, chair. 

“The Girl in the White Dress”:  Iris Milutinovic takes on the “Aboriginal question”, Brenda Machosky, University of Hawai'i

The White Usurper’s Power:’ Figurations of Shanawdithit and Truganini in Settler Culture Writing," Fiona Polack, Memorial University, Newfoundland. 

12-1:30  PM Lunch. Emergent Settler and Indigenous Imaginaries: Learning to Read in Pacific Contexts." Diana Brydon, Canada Research Chair in Globalization and
Cultural Studies, University of Manitoba

1: 30-2:45  Indigeneity and Trauma
 Eva Rueschmann, Hampshire College, Chair.

"The Notions of Permanence: Autochthony, Indigeneity, Locality in Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria," Nicholas  Birns, Eugene Lang College. the New School. 

On Being Serious About Welcome to Country: Deconstructing and Repositioning Reconciliation and Recognition in Noongar Theater and Activist Performance. Michael Griffiths, Rice University,

"John Marsden’s “Tomorrow Series”: An Escher-Like Political Text", Theodore Sheckels, Randolph-Macon College.  

2:45-3  break 

3-4:15   Creative Session: Poetry reading by Nathanael  O'Reilly, Paul Kane, Jonathan Bennett, 
4: 15 Plenary session  "From Winds to God, The Deviland Me: Alf Taylor on poetry and memoir.


 The game of nationhood: Federation, recreation and modernity
Chris McAuliffe, Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Visiting Professor of Australian Studies, Harvard University 2011-12

SATURDAY February 17 

Continental breakfast 8-9 

9:15-10:30 6. Australian Classics in Context
Nicholas Birns, Eugene Lang College. Chair 
"Patrick White and Suburbia: Disdain or Ambivalence?”, Nathanael O'Reilly, Texas Christian University, 

The Age of Gas: Marcus Clarke, George Augustus Sala and Colonial Bohemia 
Peter Blake, University of Brighton 

"Witkacy in Oz" John Scheckter, Long Island University. 

10:30-10:45 break 

10:45-12  7.  Australian Contexts
Three Generations of McCrae Writers, 1804 – 1958
Mark Klemens, Columbus, OH. 

Brenda Walker’s Challenge to the Anzac Legend in her Great War Novel The Wing of Night Donna Coates, University of Calgary. 

12-1:30 Lunch, Professor Cecilia Morgan 'From Rupert's Land to Port Phillip: the Voyages of Duncan and Donald McTavish Within the British Empire, 1830s-1850s.'
1:30-2:45 Education and Cognition 

How can a writer of historical fiction ethically negotiate the divide between fact and imagination?
Marcia van Zeller, Curtin University

"Psychology and Book History: A New Frontier," Per Henningsgaard, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, 

"The Power of the Pen: Teaching Politics Via Political Cartoons." Kathleen Burns, George Mason University

2:45-3 PM break
3 PM Business Meeting

Alf Taylor's presence is assisted by The Western Australian Department of Culture and the Arts

Friday, November 4, 2011

Robert Adamson wins the Patrick White Award

Robert Adamson, the incisive and sensitive poet associated with the Hawkesbury River just north of metropolitan Sydney, is this year's winner of the biennial Patrick White Award, for an older writer insufficiently recognized. This is always a judgment call, as on one level Bob Adamson's work is widely acclaimed, but this award has recently taken on the contours of being given tho a figure with national,but not international, recognition, and in this sense Adamson is a highly appropriate candidate. I included Adamson in a selection of Australian poems for the Manhattan Review a while back, and met him at a party hosted by Lily Brett and David Rankin--he possessed in person some of the grace and insight to be found so abundantly in his poetry. Adamson's work--at once Orphic and political, local and and laden with a sense of mysterium tremendum--is a truly substantial contribution to the contemporary lyric. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

CFP: Patrick White

The year 2012 marks the centenary of the birth of Australia’s Nobel-prize winning author Patrick White who died just over twenty years ago. Since his death, White’s critical reputation has suffered somewhat, although there are signs now of renewed interest in his work. The Journal of Postcolonial Cultures and Societies (See blog link: will dedicate a special issue to Patrick White in 2012 in order to celebrate the centenary of the author.
Submissions for papers to be included in this issue are called for, especially, but not only, from non-Australia based scholars.
Papers can address any major aspect of White’s fiction including, for example, transnational perspectives, regional aspects, metaphysics, myth-making, recognition (including a discussion of the PW award), aesthetics or representations of Indigenous Australians.
Special consideration will be given to proposals that address and theorise gender, sexuality and queer readings of White’s work.
Proposals of book reviews on Patrick White scholarship and on any aspect of Australian postcolonial culture are also solicited.
Please submit an abstract of up to 200 words simultaneously to both Editors (details provided below) by mid-December 2011. Full length essays will be expected by mid-March 2012.

David Coad is a Lecturer at the University of Valenciennes, in France. After a doctorate on the religious metaphysics of Patrick White, obtained at the University of Paris III – Nouvelle Sorbonne, he published a collection of essays on Patrick White in 1997. Other publications include Gender Trouble Down Under: Australian Masculinities (Valenciennes: PUV, 2002) and The Metrosexual: Gender, Sexuality, and Sport (New York: SUNY, 2008). Contact:

Jean-François Vernay has recently been appointed Associate Editor for The Journal of Post-Colonial Cultures and Societies. He is the author of two monographs on Australian fiction: Water From the Moon: Illusion and Reality in the Works of Australian Novelist Christopher Koch (New York: Cambria Press, 2007) and The Great Australian Novel – A Panorama (Melbourne: Brolga, 2010). Blog:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

CFP: Australian Writing of the 1960s

Call for Papers:  Australian Writing of the 1960s

Papers are sought for an anticipated special issue of Antipodes devoted to Australian writing from 1960 to 1973.  The collection will focus on the tension between continuity and change during that period.  Some possible topics include:  reception of Alan Seymour’s play The One Day of the Year;  the emergence of published Indigenous writing, such as Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s We Are Going;  the early work of Mudrooroo;  novels leading up to Patrick White’s 1973 Nobel Prize, including Riders in the Chariot, The Solid Mandala and The Vivisector; Xavier Hebert;  Hal Porter;  Miles Franklin Prize-winners of the 1960s such as Elizabeth O’Connor, Randolph Stow, Thea Astley, George Turner, Sumner Locke Elliott, Peter Mathers, George Johnston and Dal Stivens;  the poetry of Rosemary Dobson, David Campbell, Judith Wright, Gwen Harwood, James McAuley, A. D. Hope, Peter Porter and others;  early Thomas Keneally works;  migrant writers such as Dimitris Tsaloumas and Manfred Jurgensen;  Barry Humphries;  children’s writing from Ruth Park and Colin Thiele;  the impact and influence of Williamson’s Don’s Party;  Michael Dransfield;  and the early work of Wilding and Moorhouse.  Memoirs of the 1960s, such as Richard Neville’s Hippie Hippie Shake and Sally Morgan’s My Place are also appropriate topics for discussion.  The growth of Australian literature as an academic discipline during the 1960s may also be explored, as well as the rise of literary periodicals such as Quadrant and Australian Literary Studies.  All Antipodes articles are refereed by multiple readers and the final submission of the article should be in MLA style.  Please submit abstracts to Mark Klemens at by April 15.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Australian and Commonwealth Bildungsromans

Australasian and Commonwealth Bildungsromans

The panel welcomes proposals that examine Australian, New Zealand and other Commonweath Bildungsromans What are the differences between bildungsromans published at the beginning of the 20th century and bildungsromans published later? How do aboriginal authors employ the genre? What is the role of post-colonial and postmodern studies on Commonwealth bildungsromans? Though preference is given to Australasian literatures, Canadian and South African are also welcome. E-mail 250-400 word abstracts in body of email to Elizabeth Abele <>.  Deadline extended to Oct. 10.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

J. M. Coetzee on Les Murray

J. M. Coetzee, himself now largely accepted as an Australian novelist, writes about the Australian poet Les Murray in the new issue of The New York Review of Books.

Coetzee notably commends the poetry editor of Antipodes, Paul Kane, for producing "the best study we have of poetry in Australia" and I and no doubt many others would certainly agree with that sentiment. The book is available here (reasonably if you buy the paperback) and I would highly recommend it.  I agree with other of Coetzee's judgment too, for instance in the 'uneasy' place that Fredy Neptune occupies in Murray's oeuvre. Coetzee also says his work has fallen off since 1992. I share his view that Murray's best poems date from the 80s, though when I met Murray in 1999 he dissented from that view. But I do think the recent work continues to be strong, recognizable, and, for me, instantly catalyzing. Coetzee does (following Kane's skillful and authoritative analysis) make clear that he views Murray as primarily a religious poet.

What does this piece do for Murray's Nobel chances? Or at least how foes it reflect them? That Coetzee, a previous Nobelist (2003), writes, largely positively, about Murray says a lot--it indicates there is a meaningful critical conversation about Murray at the highest levels, and it is hard to get the Nobel without having such a conversation, at least in your own language. on the other hand, the downside of Murray Coetzee observes is what everybody says "I love Murray, but if only he weren't so cranky and so critical of the Left." Although Murray may mellow with age, I doubt if he will change his spots. This is what makes Murray Murray. It is like asking D. H. lawrence to stop having such a big ego and thinking about sex all the time. Great writers are as defined by their quirks as their masteries.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A tribute to one of the marvels of the modern world, the Sydney Opera House, by way of covering Nick Cave's "Ship Song." Go ahead and drop your jaw when Teddy Tahu Rhodes does his bit.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

December 2011 Antipodes

Fresh from the success of our June 2011 issue on Asian Australian literature (guest edited by Alison Broinowski) we are pleased to announce that the December 2011 issue of Antipodes will be a themed issue on transnational Antipodeanism, including cover art by John Pule, an speculative introduction by Nicholas Birns, essays by Gillian Dooley on Iris Murdoch, Katherine Hallemeier on Rey Chow and Brian Castro, Elizabeth Hicks on writing from the Blue Mountains, James Dahlstrom on Rolf Boldrewood; and creative nonfiction by Ouyang Yu, Zhao Chuan, Stephen Oliver, Petra Kuppers and Jeremy Fisher. 

Thomas Keneally

This charming story about Thomas Keneally reminded me  of why i have always admired and respected this versatile, ingenious, and deeply ethical writer. Yes, one would think a Nobel Prize unlikely compared to some of the more 'literry' writers discussed earlier in this blog, and ye,s at time Keneally has written too swiftly and without enough reflection. But nothing he has ever written is without cogency or intelligence, and in the last decade he produced at least two noteworthy novels, Office of Innocence and The Tyrant's Novel. Before that, I would espeiclaly mention the underrated but very funny Jacko, Flying Hero Class, To Asmara, Gossip from the Forest, Confederates, and of course Schindler's List. Bring larks and Heroes is especially important as a link between say, Eleanor Dark and Kate Grenville in the representation of early white Australia. Keneally, of course, also was doing transnationalism and pioneering anti-xenophobic attitudes in Australia long before they became fashionable. For someone so famous, in an odd way he deserves greater recognition. Peter Pierce has kept the flame within Australia, and Americans such as Virginia Carruthers have also contributed, but Keneally is a writer who, I predict, will one day be taken more seriously by academia than he is now. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Prime Minister's Awards

The Prime Minister's Awards have been announced, with Stephen Daisley winning for fiction..I really know nothing of his work but the name but I look forward to reading him.....I doubt the Prime Minister actually chooses the books but, if they did, Gillard's taste would seem slightly less oriented towards painting an image of the nation as a whole and more to simply rewarding good work..of course this is always the tug on awards, as they go on they become less oriented to statements and more to works....and remember this award is just a few years old....

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Australian books in American bookstores

A couple snaps of books by Australian authors that have managed to find themselves a place on the shelves of American bookstores:

The above photo was taken at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Boswell was recently featured in a Huffington Post article ( about favorite independent bookstores; since it was the closest such bookstore to me, I paid it a visit just the other day. Imagine my delight when I saw Christos Tsiolkas's The Slap in the "Staff Recommendations" section. If you look closely at the label, it describes the book as "Franzen-esque"!

This copy of Gail Jones's Sorry was found in the "Customer Favorites Fiction" section of the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York City. Not sure how exactly this title made its way into this section, but I think it's safe to assume that it wasn't based on sales figures! Anyway, nice to see such a fine Australian author featured so prominently in such a prominent American bookstore!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Kim Scott wins Miles Franklin Award

Kim Scott has won the 2011 Miles Franklin Award for That Deadman Dance. He co-won the 2000 award for Benang; by winning it solo this year, he becomes the second Indigenous writer to win the award, after Alexis Wright in 2006 for Carpentaria

Saturday, June 4, 2011

New Zealand 2012 Frankfurt guest

New Zealand has been named the 2012 featured country at the Frankfurt Book Fair. This is of course major exposure, though NZ lit is already pretty big in Germany; when I was changing planes in Munich two years ago I saw an Anthony McCarten novel (in German translation) in the airport bookstore, and TIm Corballis, among others, has spent time in Berlin. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kerry Leves 1948-2011

I was very sorry to hear of the passing of Kerry Leves. I only met him once, at the Reading Across the Pacific conference in Sydney in January 2010, but he gave a fine paper there. I was already very familiar with him as the resourceful and cogent reviewer of poetry for Overland and for his own work as a poet. He seemed like the kind of figure who would have many years on the literary scene ahead of him; his loss is a real blow for the vitality of the Australian cultural sphere. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Guilty Pleasure

I just finished reading Shirley Hazzard’s first novel, The Evening of the Holiday (1966). It’s a short thing, 138 pages in my edition, and a delightful early-summer celebration of climate and place. That is, Hazzard’s real interest is the Tuscan countryside, with quiet villas and old gardens. There’s a startlingly sudden view of an old fresco in a monastery that must be a forerunner of the even more amazing scene in The English Patient. Hazzard doesn’t much bother with characters—purposefully, I think. Two people, an Italian architect and an English/Italian visitor, have an affair. We are not given much about their attraction to one another, or the other aspects of their lives on which the affair must impinge. It ends, as it no doubt must. That’s the point, almost as in Ecclesiastes or Henry James: human matters take place in spaces and times so vast that the wonder is that anyone takes them to heart.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Australian literature in El Pais

An article (translated into Spanish) by the editor of Antipodes on Australian literature which appeared in El Pais, one of the most prestigious newspapers in the Spanish-speaking world. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Lost World: Richard Flanagan in the NYTimes

Flanagan's article appeared in The New York Times on Sunday, 1 May. As he has in the past, Flanagan characterizes Australia, and Tasmania in particular, as bearing the all-out assault of European encounter: history as insult, as a fist in the face, as unremitting violence. Like the Tasmanian historian Cassandra Pybus, an early collaborator with whom he later fell out, Flanagan writes from the inside of this ugly dynamic, scratching away at the insulation and detachment that might otherwise offer the false comforts of historicizing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

All-Male Miles Franklin short list

A strangely short and all-male (though not all-white) Miles Franklin short-list..and equally strangely, the judges' comments seen to denounce the longlist they themselves chose. I personally would have wanted The Legacy though certainly have not read all the books, amd the writers who were chosen are obviously outstanding.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Three Aussies on IMPAC award shortlist

Craig Silvey, Evie Wyld, and (see below entry)  David Malouf are all nominated. More from Stephen Romei in the Australian.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Friday, April 8, 2011

If an Australian Does Not Win....

So we have four strong candidates, Carey, Malouf, Murnane, and Murray. All are Anglo-Celtic males (yes, I know about Malouf's Lebanese paternal ancestry). All are writers who first came to world notice (some more than others) in the 1980s. There is a reasonably good chance one of these will win the Prize. But if none of these win, what will this outcome be saying?
    It could merely be a matter of happenstance. The Nobel Prize is not a lifetime achievement award; those who thought that Dorothy Hewett (whom I personally regard as a very distinguished writer)  would receive it, simply for writing interesting novels, plays, memoirs, having lived a long time, and being a woman with radical politics--were misjudging the nature of the honor. As said before, the Nobel Prize is not efficient; many who might well on standards of pure merit win given world enough and time are closed out by the clock. Indeed, there are writers who have 'unofficially' become laureates as people assume they would have won the Prize had they lived. (Sebald, Bolaño, etc.) If one of the above Australians wins, it is likely some of the below will not: Philip Roth, Milan Kundera, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Witi Ihimaera, Yves Bonnefoy, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Carlos Fuentes, Adonis, Ko Un.
    But if none of the four 'major' Australians win, it could be that the Academy is looking for a different sort of Australian writer. In a way it all comes down to Patrick White. Is the current generation different enough from Patrick White to warrant a Prize? Has it gone in new directions as far as world literature has concerned? We have had a modern Australian laureate; the four above all represent different aspects of postmodernity.
   Ten, twenty years from now, the list of possible Australian winners will look more 'diverse'. Right now, if any others were suggested, they would also probably be white males: Murray Bail, sometimes praised as an Australian Borges, is somebody who could be mentioned for the Prize, although likely he will come no closer to the prize than the real Borges did, despite the genuine acheivement of The Pages. Shirley Hazzard, with a 23-year gap between award-winning novels,  probably just has not published enough fiction to win, although her work is certainly eligible in terms of merit. Janette Turner Hospital has had a long and distinguished career and has also been involved in discussuons of international literature.   Tim Winton is a good enough writer to win, but probably, like Jorge Amado or Yashar Kemal, he is a deserving author who will not be seen as "highbrow" enough.  Winton is young enough though, and Breath good enough, to think he might enhance his candidacy in the years ahead. Kate Grenville conceivably could be a candidate now, with her international success, although as far as I know she has not been mentioned. But certainly she would be deserving, although, like Malouf, the question of a writer whose principal theme has been a white response to the Indigenous issue would arise. I would put this problem this way: "Can we have Le Clézio after Obama?" Jean Marie Le Clézio won the prize in 2008 largely for writing sympathetically about non-whites. But when non-whites in the metropolitan world begin winning Peace Prizes,  as President Obama did in 2009, is finding merit in that posture primarily possible? I am not saying Malouf and/or Grenville are limited to this stance, merely that they are best known worldwide for it.
     In ten or twenty years, Kim Scott or Alexis Wright or some other Indigenous writer nobody has heard of yet might be contenders. Had his ancestry not been questioned, Mudrooroo would be a contender right now. Christos Tsiolkas might seem too irreverent to be a Nobel candidate, but the world changes, and Tsiolkas is a writer of distinction. Nam Le has barely begun his career, who knows? This is not to say that there will be a permanent multicultural turn, that no Anglo-Celtic Australian writer will ever again be the face of their country's literature; the still-'young' John Kinsella has made a career of eminently Nobel-worthy contour, and Australian literary talent under 50 is considerable and deep. Though a writer's career can be complicated--both Thomas Keneally and Randolph Stow would have been thought, in time,  to be plausible candidates for this list when they were young, but they fell out of the discussion for very different reasons. Australia will very likely have plausible Nobel candidates in 2031.  But they will come from a different sort of Australia.
    I don't think this is the major obstacle to the four candidates. The major obstacle is a numbers problem, just as if one of them wins the major obstacle to a Roth or a Rushdie is a numbers problem. But it does raise an important issue. What is Australian literature? What does it look like to the global public? Who writes it? Brian Castro, for instance, is a writer of great quality but has not been mentioned in the Nobel speculation. Why is this? Whoever does or does not get the Nobel Prize, the Australian writers discussed in this series certainly have made a valorous and indispensable contribution to the literature of their country and of the world.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Australian Nobel Prize Candidates: Les Murray

In the late 1980s, Les Murray was often spoken of as a member of a 'superleague' of four current poets of international acclaim, the others: Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney, and Derek Walcott. All four were writers in English who had come to the language thorough unorthodox means, Brodsky through exile and emigration, the others from the periphery or subaltern spaces form the Anglophone world to the center. All were in their own way traditionalists and innovators, comfortable with meter and traditional forms but also improvisatory and open in their sense of poetic structure. of the four, Murray is the only one to so far not have won the Nobel.

When interviewed last year with respect to Murnane's Nobel chances. Murray gallantly stepped aside in favor of his fellow Australian, born a year later, with whom he shares some interests (Hungary and the uncommon intellectual experiences of ordinary people) but who in other respects he diverged from (most notably in his religious trajectory.) Murray seemed to think his window was closed, yet his current book, Taller When Prone, has garnered considerably, if not always seamlessly insightful, coverage in the US and Europe, and he has become something of a household name in the UK and even on the Continent where his readings draw huge numbers. (He has never been a 'mass' phenomenon in the US the way Heaney has, and certain important US critics, such as Helen Vendler and Sven Birkerts, took an initial stand against him). Murray has, for obvious reasons often been linked to the Nobel Prize.

Murray may seem light-hearted or satiric at times, but his is a fiercely ambitious poetry, open to every sinew of experience, fiery with advocacy of the downtrodden and marginalized, the "battlers," even, and especially, when thy are set back by liberal, elitist pieties. Indeed Murray is often seen as a figure of the political Right, and this has no doubt hurt his contention, especially given Australia's position with respect to the Iraq War. The leftward bias of the Prize can be overrated. Had the Nobel committee been as insistently leftist as they are said to be, wouldn't they have given it to Margaret Atwood for Canada's not being directly involved in Iraq? On the other hand, writers associated with anti-leftist positions such as Vargas Llosa or V. S. Naipaul have won in recent years. But, unlike these, Murray is a man of faith, a Roman Catholic, who repeatedly dedicates his book to the glory of God, and for whom (despite his critics; tendency to play this down) Christian belief is central to his practice of poetry, though not at all in a dogmatic or constraining way. He is also a nature poet who addresses what might be called 'ecological' themes. This should make him a good candidate in theory. But actually the Prize has not particularly honored those who have made trees, plants, and animals a major concern. Murray's translations from the natural world within and outside his book of that name, are a major part of his poetic self. He also addressed the Indigenous issue early and concertedly in "The Buladelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle." 

Murray may or may not win. In a sense he does not have to, as his work has already achieved the position of international attention that a prize would admittedly accentuate. His is an extraordinary gift, one of the great talents in English, someone who could write a poem called "Vindaloo in Merthyr Tydfil"  and turned it into a rueful, visionary, playful performance.

So. of the four major reputed candidates--Carey, Malouf, Murnane, Murray--all deserve it and have a serious chance. There are no inflated or mysteriously un-scrutinized reputations here. Those cheering (barracking?) for an Australian to win have good basis for hope. In the next item, though, we will survey some structural factors, aside from those mentioned in the opening post, which may stand in the way of this happening in the near future.

Australian Nobel Prize Candidates: Gerald Murnane

As every bit of coverage of Gerald Murnane's chances for the Nobel have noted, Murnane, as a horse-racing fan of meticulous attentiveness and depth, knows all about odds, and when, in 2006 and again last year the British sports betting firm Ladbrokes  had him at fairly short odds as a Nobel winner, he knew both that he was in the running and that anything can happen after the morning line has been set.

Murnane, as a candidate, is the anti-Malouf. Whereas Malouf has won international prizes seen as prerequisites or at least qualifiers for winning the Nobel, Murnane, though he has racked up an impressive set of Australian prizes--including the Melbourne Prize and the Patrick White Award--has never figured in any prize award or speculation in the larger English-speaking world. Why then is he in the conversation? He is a writer of striking originality and vision, yet many such are never the objects of speculation. Unlike Carey and Malouf, he has never been a bestseller, not even in Australia. It would be a gutty, courageous, outside-the-box choice for the Prize, a reward for originality, not fame or good will.

Murnane has considerable support within the Swedish academy. Not necessarily the Swedish Academy with a capital A, but the Swedish academy with a small a,  meaning Swedish professors of English. Professors Harald Fawkner and Karin Hansson, and the influential translator Lars Ahlström, are all huge boosters of Murnane's work and have written about it with passion and profundity--Ahlström edited a special Murnane issue, published in 2002, of ARTES, the journal of the Swedish Academy. I was invited over to Sweden in the late 90s specifically to speak on Murnane's work to an audience of academics, journalists, and publishers who were all riveted, not necessarily by my talk, but by Murnane's work. Inland (for which I wrote an introduction to the new Sydney edition) was translated into Swedish a few years back, Velvet Waters translated in 2009 (and extensively reviewed in Swedish newspapers) and  Barley Patch is coming out in Sweden, France, and the US (from the influential Dalkey Archive)  this year. So the Academy members must know the name by now. Murnane is moving out of the backstretch in the World Republic of Letters stakes, and despite the frequent inaccuracy of the Ladbrokes odds, they have at least mentioned the eventual winner over the past few years, so however chancy the projections they still must have heard something for Murnane to be mentioned so prominently. Like Carey and Malouf, Murnane has a recent novel, Barley Patch, which is as good and as characteristic as anything he has written. His essays, collected in Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs, are considered by some his best work--he was represented in the Macquarie Anthology of Australian Literature with an essay--and have helped humanize the literary public's image of this supremely introspective and private writer.

What's to prevent Murnane from winning? All past English-speaking winners have been better-known within the English-speaking world than Murnane, even when we remember somebody like Faulkner was a surprise choice in his day;  I can't tell if there was an equivalent situation in any other language (Kertesz?) but it is a leap to make from winning prizes only in Australia to the Nobel. Murnane is so impressive a writer and has garnered such prominent worldwide support among thinkers and intellectuals he could just do it, but this is a factor that lengthens the odds.

Also, Murnane is not really the kind of writer who traditionally wins the Nobel, in that he is self-reflexive and writes about the status of fiction as fiction. His stories and novels do have moment of social concern--"Land Deal"'s treatment of the Aboriginal issue,  the prominence of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 in Murnane's work--but they are more a subset of a cognitive compassion and a home-grown cosmopolitanism than a mission deliberately undertaken like Malouf's. Self-reflexive writers--Borges, Nabokov, Proust, Calvino--have tended to be shut out of the Nobel action. True, Proust died young (though he would have had to live until 80 to win I think) and Calvino might well had won it had he lived a few years. Borges's perceived right-wing politics cost him some support as perhaps did Nabokov's sexual emphases in Lolita and presumed Soviet opposition to him (in other words, if you are going to pick someone the Soviets despise, pick the morally worthy Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn, not the 'irresponsible' Nabokov.) All these factors do not apply to Murnane, and times do change, people become more tolerant and open. But still, the lack of self-reflexive Nobel winners is a factor against him. it could be turned around in his favor were the Academy to realize that this was probably their last chance to honor this sort of writer, as in subsequent generations self-reflexivity ceased to be an aspect of originality and became an ironic inheritance of a jaded and commercialized  literary scene. This turn might be a bit subtle in this context. But it is the truth.

Look for Murnane's work to have increasing presence on the world literary scene, and to have a surprisingly reaonable chance for the Prize. Murnane's prominence in the Nobel conversation as a serious contender has brought new attention to his body of work, one of the truly singular and inimitable achievements of our time.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Australian Nobel Prize Candidates: David Malouf

If a big-state governor is a natural hopeful for a US presidential nomination, David Malouf is a natural hopeful for the Nobel Prize. He has won one of the pries routinely considered a stepping-stone for the Nobel--the Neustadt International Prize--as well as a newer award--the IMPAC prize--whose huge purse gave its first winner, Malouf,  great publicity. and is one of the frontrunners for the next international Booker a prize far more like the Nobel in contour than its annual stable mate although no winner of the international Booker has of yet won the Nobel.

Though one imagines his sales do not approach Carey's, Malouf needs on introduction in the broader world. Remembering Babylon was a huge hit and is regularly assigned; it is probably one of the novels that those who only know one Australian novel most know. Moreover, Malouf has had a steady career including such neglected jewels as Harland's Half Acre--one of the great novels about visual art ever written--and the recent Trojan War retelling Ransom, as fine a book has appeared in the past decade. Even books about which I was personally less enthused like The Conversation at Curlow Creek, were serious, important, and thoughtful. Moreover Malouf has written excellent short stories and is an acerbic and percipient lyric poet. He has also, like Carey, written nonfiction going beyond mere literary criticism and meditating on Australian identity and the aftermath of war and trauma, and even the idea of happiness itself.

Malouf might be accused at times of favoring style over substance or of having a style so seamless and so assured as to be in a sense too faultless. But although the Nobel has sometimes honored (as Les Murray might say) "sprawling" novelists (think Steinbeck, Andric, Solzhenitsyn) it has just as much favored more tightly-knit and meditative types (Kertesz, Coetzee, Jelinek, Müller). Moreover Malouf has welded style and substance in that he has commented with Flaubertian skill, on both World Wars the early settlement of Australasia, and most importantly, the idea of the primitive' and, in Remembering Babylon, white-Aboriginal relations. This is what some might call his "politically correct" credential, and Malouf’s name is closely linked with the Sorry Day and apology movements. Unlike Murray, he is perceived as a good, mainstream liberal with the  ‘right’ politics. This will help him, although also not make him an outside-the-box choice. Yet Malouf, despite his Lebanese paternal ancestry, is essentially 'white' in Australian terms, and the Academy might say, why give a white liberal a prize when one can do so to an Aboriginal writer? If Malouf--a writer of compelling, incisive achievement--does not win I suspect this will be a factor at work...