Publication Details

Ommundsen, W. 2011, 'Transnational (Il)literacies: Reading the "New Chinese Literature in Australia" in China', Antipodes: a North American journal of Australian literature, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 83-89.


THE TRANSNATIONAL "TURN" IN AUSTRALIAN LITERARY studies was the subject of lively critical debate at the time my colleagues Alison Broinowski, Paul Sharrad and I in 2008 embarked on the ARC-supported project "Globalising Australian literature: Asian Australian writing, Asian perspectives on Australian literature." Robert Dixon's 2007 essay "Australian Literature - International Contexts" charted the development of Australian literary studies from the cultural nationalist phase of the early years through to "the inter- or trans-national perspectives that have emerged in a number of humanities disciplines since the 1990s", and outlined his proposal of a research agenda for "a transnational practice of Australian literary criticism". In an earlier paper, Dixon had advocated the need for scholars of Australian literary studies to be able to read languages other than English and be more aware of non-Anglophone traditions. In relation to the study of Henry Handle Richardson he write : "We can only begin to understand this greatest of Australian writers if we are prepared [...] to think beyond the boundaries of both the national and the literary - beyond the boundaries, in fact, of Anglophone culture". Also in 2007, David Carter, in "After Postcolonialism," speculated on the future of literary studies beyond the postcolonial moment of the 1990s, suggesting that it would be closely attentive to "Australia's long history of interdependence in imperial and global networks" and "to the circulation of cultures beneath and beyond the level of the nation". He offered the following list if themes for his new direction in literary studies: "Australian modernity or cosmopolitanism, transnational cultures, critical race and whiteness studies, Asian-Australian identities and diasporas, material print cultures, and [...] studies of Indigenous modernity". Ken Gelder, in setting out his version of a research agenda for Australian literary studies in 2005, acknowledged the transnational turn while at the same time raising concerns about its application to Australian studies and Australian literary studies: " We can wonder how easily, and in what ways, the national and the transnational can sit together: and this is the second predicament for our sub-discipline, especially important when we think of Australia 'in the region' or when we think in terms of globalization." Examining recent research projects awarded Australian Research Council and other funding, he observes that "we can at least see that the national as a category does indeed - for better or for worse - retain a great deal of cultural, political and commercial force".

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