Oz Lit

An interesting article from the Australian newspaper in the “Review” section a couple of weeks reported the imminent demise of Australian literature as a critical subject taught at tertiary levels of education in this country.

Literature has sufferred under the beligerent attack of post-structuralist, postcolonial and postmodern theory, according to the Review.  Yes, all the signposts are there, at the crossroads…

Nationalism has become “unfashionable” along with Patrick White, Australia’s only Nobel laureate in Literature. Semiotic analyses of Big Brother and Paris Hilton’s fashion apparel has subsumed our cultural heritage. The death of the author, as Roland Barthes ‘predicted,’ is upon us.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As our second longest serving Prime Minister after Sir Robert Menzies is crying out for a consolidated table of values for Australia – like “mateship” (I wonder if Peter Costello shares John’s esteem of this value), funding to universities is treated like ratings on TV. The more viewers, more advertising revenue, higher returns.

Somethings just aren’t for sale.

People write for the love of writing. It is a passion, one of the oldest passions in art and human pursuits. The rise of creative writing subjects taught at institutions around Australia attest to this passion. There are people out there inventing the Australian identity everyday, putting it into words, reading and writing.

Literature serves a function. It is not a question of needing eXpert functions to tell us what to write nor wanting a new wave of creative industry graduates every year, paralysing our production lines, with K-Fn ‘postmodern’ spellings or ‘post-structuralist’ juxtapositions in identity and difference.

Storytelling is an ancient human practice on which peoples and tribes – later, nations – held a set of values up for future and present generations, to preserve their identity over time. In modern society, individuals create their own stories on weblogs, alone and in their rooms, but still, that sense of community, the fundamental necessity of recognition – without which you are another JC IE alone with God – is founded on the act of creation, affecting the future. To ecko Mr Nietzsche, “the individual is the latest creation!”

Writing a novel, the author is completely alone with his task. Ultimately, he or she is the one who makes or breaks the story, makes it relevant to relieve us of our tired drudgery, to turn a little of our own tears into wine. To lend words to our ineffable desire for ‘mateship’ (by no means a uniquely Australian attribute), Australian authors have given the words by which they live, for future generations to enjoy.

Australia has been given a unique opportunity amongst the Western nations of the world to serve as a kind of social experiment. Far away from the troubled history in Europe that beset our parents and grandparents and great grandparents (who brought with them, their own ghosts, their own eckoes of the tragedies they left behind), we have a chance to invent ourselves in a proud tradition of adventure and exploration – not conquest and exploitation – to give body to new ideas, and raise a voice to reconcilliate our differences in peace.

Lest we forget… we are reminded of the sacrifice of lives that made this freedom possible. Without the practice of this freedom, what did those men and women die for? To liberate our egoes and become – creative writers? Eh, Johnny, mate?

There is a living tradition to be learnt from literature, Oz lit, no less than European. It is where Everyman meets his other, his father, his mother, the girl next door, in the church across the street or in the writing on the wall. It is our mates, our history and present, for pride and for shame, for the writing, not the wrongs. Life is for the living. Lest we forget.


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