The recognition of national literatures: the Canadian and Australian examples

Lawson, Alan (1987). The recognition of national literatures: the Canadian and Australian examples PhD Thesis, Department of English, University of Queensland. doi:10.14264/uql.2016.906

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Author Lawson, Alan
Thesis Title The recognition of national literatures: the Canadian and Australian examples
School, Centre or Institute Department of English
Institution University of Queensland
DOI 10.14264/uql.2016.906
Publication date 1987-01
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Unknown
Total pages 363
Subjects 420200 Literature Studies
Formatted abstract
Leonie Kramer has noted that 'literary commentary . . . is a powerful influence on notions of what constitutes a particular reality.' But literary commentary does not act alone: it also intersects with other discursive acts that together produce a dominant ideology, participating with them in the construction of 'a particular reality'. This thesis demonstrates, for the period since 1940, how arguments about the nature of Canadian and Australian Literatures in English are part of that ideological process. It therefore interrogates the kinds of 'national interests' which the discussions of the national literatures serve. Acknowledging that such debates are conducted as being 'in the interest' of the nation but are in fact in the domain of particular institutions, it enquires into the sources and relations of power within those institutions (and other cultural formations), and the ways in which that power is enhanced by the discussions of the national literatures.

While it is true that the question, 'Is there any?' continued to be used as a dismissive topos in some polemics well into the period covered, this thesis argues that in the significant debates about Australian and Canadian Literatures, and in most of the public use of them, the issues that are engaged are rather 'What is it?' and, implicitly at least, 'What may be done with/to it?' That last question discloses that the debate is about authority. The thesis argues that the attempts to define national literatures have been attempts to privilege the position of the definer.

It proposes that the visibility of national literatures, the general acknowledgement of their 'presence', depends not on the adventitious .pn iv production of particular literary works -- the epic, a 'masterpiece', the Great Canadian/Australian Novel -- or on the 'mastery' of particular literary material -- the vernacular, indigenous peoples, the natural environment -- but rather on the establishment of the institutions of literary culture. It further argues that, despite the considerable achievements of individuals, this is not a history of individual heroism any more than it is a matter of reaching a quota of quality, quantity, or content. The 'actions' of those notable individuals are subject to, and are often precipitated by, institutional, political, and economic forces such as those examined in Chapters Five and Six. One premise of this thesis is that in Post-Colonial cultures, the 'presence' of history, ideology, and discourse is especially 'marked', and that, for an understanding of the development of literary culture, an examination of the economies of public/ation, of the relation to public policy, is not only necessary but inevitable.

The proof of the existence of a national literature is, indeed, the existence of its infrastructure -- the institutions of writing, teaching, scholarship, and publishing. But a crucial cause seems to be the precipitation of a polemic -- a 'timely' debate about the literature. Equally, the maintenance of a cultural nationalism depends not on the 'existence' of a national culture but upon the promotion of a problematic -- a rhetoric of crisis. In this, Canada has been more prominent than Australia. It is worth noting that the 'crisis' in Canadian culture in the nineteen seventies was especially closely tied to the focussing upon the national in 1967 (the Centennial), upon internal threats to its survival (the 'Quebec crisis'), and the external threats to its survival (American economic domination of Canadian industry and consequently of Canadian culture): the debate about Canadian culture was a metaphor and a metonymy for each of these.

While it has become axiomatic to observe that Canadian society is pluralist (the mosaic) and Australian society is assimilationist (the monolith), this thesis nevertheless shows that the coherence of Canadian society is in many ways more apparent. This is especially true of the cultural articulations of that society, its concern for principles (rather than Australian pragmatism), its impetus towards defining issues (rather than the Australian dealing with problems), and its concern with self- knowledge.

However, in working comparatively with Canadian and Australian literatures this thesis departs from the customary Australian-Canadian strategy of distinguishing between the two literatures with the implied object of judging the two cultures. Its aim, rather, is to pursue an understanding of the development and workings of national literary cultures. It therefore considers not only the particular histories of literary criticism and literary history, and those of the various cultural institutions, but also endeavours to analyse their sociologies as well. The effects, then, of the particular modes of operation of the institutions (and even individuals) in Canadian and Australian literary culture upon the representation and recognition of those 'Literatures' are considered in some detail in the process of examining the range of social and cultural domains that must be analysed if the stories of national literary cultures are to be made intelligible.
Keyword Literature
Comparative -- Australian and Canadian
Canadian literature -- History and criticism
Australian literature -- History and criticism
Comparative -- Canadian and Australian

Document type: Thesis
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Created: Fri, 21 Nov 2008, 21:03:14 EST