Friday, January 30, 2009

Q: What's the difference between Australian literature and a woolly mammoth?

Peter Carey has a really excellent, impassioned piece in today's Age on what the elimination of territorial copyright will mean for Australian writers and writing, here.

I am reminded of a passage in Other People's Words, the memoir of former Australian publisher, general enabler and all-round legend Hilary McPhee of McPhee Gribble as was, who apprehensively noted the straws in the wind back in 2001. If the reader will forgive a bit of egregious self-quoting, here's a summary from my review of the book for Australian Book Review:
... she deploys single, sharply focused images as motifs to link up different epochs in her life and different eras of cultural history, motifs positioned in the text both to herald and to echo its central concerns and themes ... there are the immigrant children at primary school in the late 1940s, 'the boys with their straight backs and red cheeks and the girls in full skirts and wooden clogs' being encouraged to sing and dance in national dress for their classmates -- an image in sharp contrast to the flattening-out of cultural differences that she finds herself fighting against forty years later.

And her image for that erosion of local difference in writing, the effect she fears globalisation has already begun to have on literature, is the glittering annual party thrown by the publishing giant Bertelsmann at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair: 'And the food tastes of nothing at all.'


genevieve said...


harry said...

Woolly mammoths are cooler?

I agree fully with Allan Fels' peice in the SMH from this morning.

Carey is simply wrong.
Australian writers do not need to be protected.
Books should be cheaper. I don't buy them because they are $35. I buy tons of books that are $10 or less.

The inherent danger of protecting the authors of a nation so that they write about "the australian experience" is that they *don't* compete with the world and therefore aren't of worldclass quality. What's the point of having an australian experience if it simply isn't up to standard?

We NEED to compete internationally, then we will get better writing.

Ask the Australian publishers why they don't publish hundreds of australian authors and just have their 'stable of authors'?

harry said...

Allan Fels and Fred Brenchley from above comment.

harry said...

It did occur to me that if I wanted to read about The Australian Experience..... why would I read a novel?

Surely I would read about real people?
Like that woman who trained camels and walked across the desert solo with them. That was a cracking read. Touching, inspiring etc etc

First hand accounts of ww2 dudes surviving the Bataan death march or fighting in Tobruk or real history. 'Leviathan' by John Bormingham etc etc etc etc

Kinda obvious really.

And another idea: how many one-off authors produce really good stuff? Lots. They say everyone has a book in them, and maybe many people only have the one.
Better to have seven one-off's than seven Tim Wintons I feel. Particularly if you are wanting Teh Australian Experience. Many voices etc