The most influential American author of her generation, Toni Morrison’s writing was radically ambiguous



Toni Morrison photographed in 2010: in both her fiction and non-fiction, she sought to expose the ‘national amnesia’ underlying often unconscious forms of racism.
Ian Langsdon/EPA

Paul Giles, University of Sydney

Toni Morrison, who has died aged 88, was the most influential and studied American author of her generation. Born as Chloe Wofford in Ohio in 1931, she graduated in 1953 with a B.A. in English from Howard University, a historically black college located in Washington DC. She then completed an M.A. at Cornell on the work of Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner, before beginning an academic teaching career.

She married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect, in 1958, but after their divorce in 1964 Morrison started working as an editor for Random House in New York. It was here that she began writing fiction, publishing her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970. It was her third novel published in 1977, Song of Solomon, that was her breakthrough work, winning the National Critics’ Book Circle Award.

Her most famous novel, Beloved followed in 1987. It was a fictionalised account of the 19th-century slave Margaret Garner, who killed her own daughter to save her from slavery.

Morrison became a well-known figure within the worlds of American academia, publishing and cultural life. In 1990, she gave the Massey lectures at Harvard dealing with the invisibility of the African American presence in American literature. These influential essays were later published as Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination.

The following year Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature. She also held a Chair in the Humanities at Princeton from 1989 until her retirement in 2006 and continued to publish important novels during the latter part of her career.

In her Massey lectures, Morrison spoke of her ambition

to draw a map, so to speak, of a critical geography and use that map to open up as much space for discovery, intellectual adventure, and close exploration as did the original charting of the New World.

Both her creative and her critical work are designed to remap the contours of American literature and culture. She aims to highlight what was omitted in the conventional forms of liberalism that governed institutional life in America during the second half of the 20th century.

Her 1993 novel Jazz, for example, involves a self-conscious revision of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s mythological “Jazz Age.” For Fitzgerald himself, this Jazz Age was centred almost exclusively around white culture. By setting her work in Harlem during the same era, Morrison executes in fictional form the remapping project that she outlined in her Harvard lectures.

‘The national amnesia’

Arguing that “the time for undiscriminating racial unity has passed,” Morrison sought, in both her fiction and non-fiction, to expose the “national amnesia” underlying often unconscious forms of racism.

Given such a remarkable career trajectory, it would seem Morrison’s literary reputation at the time of her death could hardly have been higher. Nevertheless, there is a significant gap between Morrison’s status as an Establishment figure and the radical ambiguities of her fiction. The latter, more elusive quality might well sustain her literary reputation more compellingly over time.

In Beloved, Morrison develops a conception of “rememory” (the character Sethe explains in the book this is the act of remembering a memory). Many of her fictions feature ways in which old ghosts haunt contemporary scenes.

The rhetorical reversals that are a common feature of Beloved reflect a condition where past and present, slavery and freedom, are all mixed up together. Indeed, the best of Morrison’s fiction is powerful precisely because it flirts with a pathological quality that avoids one-dimensional, political formulations.

In Tar Baby (1981), the reader is told how the black heroine’s “legs burned with the memory of tar,” despite her degree in art history from the Sorbonne. In Jazz, the heroine finds herself compelled to go back to a department store and “slap the face of a white salesgirl” who had snubbed her, despite recognising this to be self-destructive gesture.

Fatalistic cycles

Morrison, who studied classical literature at university, was influenced intellectually by the fatalistic cycles that permeate ancient Greek theatre. Something of this darker mood enters into her own fiction.

This is why Morrison’s novels are more unsettling than was her public persona. Unlike many of her intellectual contemporaries, she retained a traditional faith in aesthetic quality and the literary canon, defending fiction as offering “a more intimate version of history”.

She endorsed Barack Obama as presidential candidate in 2008 by commending his “creative imagination, which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom.”

Yet such polite terms as “creative imagination” find themselves contradicted by the cycles inherent in Morrison’s own imaginative universe. In Sula, for instance, the institution of a “National Suicide Day” epitomizes the kind of in-turned violence typical of her sombre fiction.

Morrison’s art resists classification. This quality of aesthetic elusiveness and ambiguity will make her more disconcerting representations of the psychology of power resonate with future generations of readers.The Conversation

Paul Giles, Professor, Challis Chair of English, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Why ‘Democracy peddler’ Yang Hengjun has been detained in China and why he must be released



China critic Yang Hengjun in July 2018.
Twitter

Chongyi Feng, University of Technology Sydney

Australian authorities have been told to stop interfering in the case of the Chinese-Australian writer Dr Yang Hengjun who has been detained by China since January.

Amid reports last week that Yang was to be charged with endangering state security, Foreign Affairs Marise Paynee said he was being detained for his political views and should be released.

Yang is a member of the Australian media union, the MEAA, which backed calls for his release.




Read more:
Australian writer Yang Hengjun is set to be charged in China at an awkward time for Australia-China relations


I’ve known Yang for many years – he is a former PhD student of mine – and I also believe he should be released.

I’ve seen reports sent to his wife, Yuan Xiaoliang, from Australian consul visits to Yang.

The reports say Yang is sealed off from the outside world without access to legal counsel or visits by relatives, and he has been subjected to interrogations twice a day.

A novel critic

So what has Yang done that has led to his detention for so long? In a nutshell, Yang is a political dissident no longer tolerated by the Chinese communist regime. He is paying a heavy price as a long-standing critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Yang, aged 54, abandoned his career as a communist cadre to embrace freedom and democracy in his middle age.

He earned his first degree in politics from Fudan University in China in 1987 and was assigned to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with connection to the Chinese secret police. He was eventually alienated by his job and developed a strong interest in literature.

He resigned from his post and moved to Australia with his wife and two sons in 1999 to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. In 2002-2005, he published a trilogy of spy novels, Fatal Weakness, Fatal Weapon and Fatal Assassination, in print and online.

These novels used his own experiences and those of his colleagues to tell the soul-stirring stories of a China-US double agent who ultimately serves the agenda for neither side but works for his own inspiration and conviction to serve the real interests of the people.

But the novels did not bring him the fame and wealth he expected, because they were published in Taiwan and banned in mainland China. An attempt to turn them into movies in Hong Kong also failed.

The rise of the blogger

At the end of 2005, Yang enrolled in a PhD in China Studies at the University of Technology Sydney under my supervision, starting his journey as a liberal scholar. By that time, I’d become a major contributor to the emergence of the Chinese liberal camp and Chinese liberal intellectuals.

Yang got his PhD in 2009 with a thesis titled The Internet and China: the Impacts of Netizen Reporters and Bloggers on Democratisation in China. The thesis was a timely, in-depth analysis of the complicated information warfare between the internet and the CCP regime.

As part of an experiment for his PhD thesis, Yang started his own blog (available now only on archive.org) and wrote commentaries on current affairs as a “citizen journalist”.

Yang is that rare combination of a scholar well trained in both China and the West, with a firm belief in the universal values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

He chose to devote his talent and passion to online journalism in Chinese, hoping to accelerate China’s transformation toward constitutional democracy. He has published more than ten million words of online articles on this theme, earning the nickname “democracy pedlar” with tremendous following in the Chinese speaking world.

Several collections of his online articles have been published to wide audience, such as Family, State and the World (2010), Seeing the World with Black Eyes: The World in the Eyes of a Democracy Pedlar (2011), Talking about China (2014), and Keeping You Company in Your Life Journey (2014).

Yang is extremely good at explaining the profound in simple terms, using moving examples in everyday life to expose the social ills of communist autocracy and promote democratic values and institutions.

In particular, he provides timely analysis on all sorts of events around the world reported in the news, revealing the stark contrast between the harsh reality and the official rhetoric of the CCP.

Yang rarely engages in social activism, although he has maintained extensive connections with some Chinese human rights and democracy activists.

Detained before

Yang has long been targeted by the Chinese security apparatus, which detained him in March 2011, taking him as one of the opinion leaders who has the capacity to mobilise nationwide social protests.

He was quickly released back to Australia due to the international media campaign and the diplomatic pressure of then Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s visit to China.

Why did he not learn his lesson? Well, he did tone down his voice after 2011. Since Xi Jinping’s rise to general secretary of the CCP in 2012, Yang adopted a soft strategy of packaging his advocacy for human rights and democracy as publicising “socialist core values” promoted by the CCP.

Yang was so successful with this new strategy that thousands of his followers organised support groups via the social media app WeChat in more than 50 cities around China. These include Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in 2015, when human rights and democracy activists had met with brutal repression.

In 2016, when the political environment turned from bad to worse and Yang’s blogs were shut down one by one, he closed down all of the WeChat groups and substantially scaled down his online writing.

Moved to the US

He moved to New York as a visiting scholar at Columbia University in 2017. He was able to travel to China several times and Chinese authorities lifted the ban on several of his blogs in China towards the end of 2018. This gave him the impression it was safe for him to visit China.

But during his visit this January he was detained upon his arrival.

Thousands of Yang’s supporters have been in despair, engaging in heated debates about his ordeal and its implications for political development in China.




Read more:
Avoiding the China trap: how Australia and the US can remain close despite the threat


Instead of following the international norm of presumption of innocence, the CCP regime continues Yang’s criminal detention despite the lack of evidence he’s done anything wrong.

This behaviour of political persecution and hostage diplomacy clearly demonstrates the contempt China has for human rights and international moral standards.

The Australian government and public are obligated to challenge the laws and practice of the CCP regime in safeguarding basic human rights of innocent citizens. The international community are also obligated to support this endeavour for human dignity, and thus the immediate release of Yang.The Conversation

Chongyi Feng, Associate Professor in China Studies, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australian writer Yang Hengjun is set to be charged in China at an awkward time for Australia-China relations



Charges against Yang appear to relate to his work as a writer and blogger in which he has been sharply critical of the Chinese regime.
Facebook

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Australia’s relations with China will be further complicated by the news that Australian citizen Yang Hengjun is set to be charged with endangering state security.

This is a serious charge that carries the penalty of at least three years in jail.




Read more:
Australian-Chinese author’s detention raises important questions about China’s motivations


Yang’s wife Yuan Xiaoliang was notified earlier today that her husband would be charged, a day before the six-month deadline determining whether he is to be released, charged or have his detention extended.

Charges against Yang appear to relate to his work as a writer and blogger in which he has been sharply critical of the Chinese regime. He developed a large following on Chinese social media and on Twitter, and his criticisms will have infuriated Chinese authorities.

Yang was arrested after he returned to China earlier this year with his family. He has been held in a Beijing state security prison since then, without access to lawyers, and denied contact with his family.

Australian attempts to secure access have been rebuffed.

Canberra’s relations with Beijing

China’s decision to charge Yang comes at an awkward moment in relations between Beijing and Canberra.

Australia this week was obliged to step up its consular efforts to persuade China to allow Uyghur families to leave Xinjiang to be reunited with their Australian families.

This followed broadcast an ABC four Corners program that drew attention to the plight of Uighurs in Xinjiang. Up to a million out of a population of 11 million in the region are reported to be in “re-education” camps.

This has drawn outrage globally.




Read more:
Four Corners’ forced labour exposé shows why you might be wearing slave-made clothes


China’s official media responded harshly to the ABC program and to criticism of China’s treatment of Uyghurs more generally. The Global Times newspaper, which tends to reflect a hardline nationalist view, accused critics of “recklessly attacking” China.

Yang’s case reflects China’s extreme sensitivity to criticism.

This episode won’t help Australia’s efforts to get its relationship with China on more stable footing after several years of difficulties.

China had objected to criticism of its attempts to interfere in Australian domestic politics via Chinese nationals associated with Beijing. This led to a freeze on visits to China by Australian political leaders. While that freeze has thawed, tensions remain.

Chinese laws affect other western democracies

Australia is far from alone among western democracies whose citizens have fallen foul of opaque and arbitary Chinese law and legal procedures.

Canada is wrestling with the cases of two of its citizens who have been held without charge since last year. China has accused the pair of stealing state secrets.

This is a serious charge that can result in the death penalty.

The two Canadians were detained after the arrest at Vancouver airport of Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the founder of the Chinese telecommunications giant, Huawei. Meng is appealing attempts by the United States to extradite her to face charge of fraud.

This is a highly contentious issue, and one that is complicating relations between Washington, Ottawa and Beijing.




Read more:
Avoiding the China trap: how Australia and the US can remain close despite the threat


Apart from arresting the Canadians accused of stealing state secrets, China has also taken aim at Canada economically. It has stopped Canadian rapeseed oil imports, dealing a hefty blow to a multibillion dollar canola industry.

What the Canadian arrests, and now that of an Australian writer, demonstrates is that relations with China are unlikely to become less complicated. Rather, it is likely they will become more so.

Among challenges for countries like Australia is how to quarantine issues of mistreatment of its citizens and broader human rights abuses, from the functioning of broad-ranging bilateral relations.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘A woman ahead of her time’: remembering the Australian writer Charmian Clift, 50 years on



Anna McGahan as Charmian Clift in Sue Smith’s play Hydra. Long overshadowed by her husband George Johnston, recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in Clift’s life and work.
Jeff Busby/Queensland Theatre

Tanya Dalziell, University of Western Australia and Paul Genoni, Curtin University

Fifty years after her death, Australian writer Charmian Clift is experiencing a renaissance. Born in 1923, Clift co-authored three novels with her husband George Johnston, wrote two under her own name, produced two travel memoirs, and had weekly column widely syndicated to major Australia papers during the the 1960s.

Clift has long been overshadowed by the legacy of Johnston, whose novel My Brother Jack is considered an Australian classic. Her novels and memoirs are sadly out of print, yet she is increasingly recognised for her important place in Australian culture.

Charmian Clift, pictured on the front cover of her memoir, Peel Me a Lotus.
Hutchinson, 1959

In 2018 she, along with Johnston, was inducted into the Australian Media Hall of Fame in recognition of her work as a columnist. She is also being reimagined in fiction, as the subject of A Theatre of Dreamers (2020), a forthcoming novel by English author, Polly Samson, and in Tamar Hodes’ The Water and the Wine (2018).

The revival of interest in Clift is more than a collective nostalgia or feminist correction of the historical record, although both are relevant. Many of her readers from the 60s still remember her newspaper column, and the impact that it had on their view of Australia’s place in the world, with great affection.

Younger generations, particularly women, have also been exposed to Clift’s clear and passionate voice after the columns were published in several volumes in the years following her death. That Clift and her writing continue to resonate with contemporary Australia tells us something about both her and the nation.

The Hydra years

Much of the renewed interest in Clift is focused not only on her writing, but also on the near decade that she and Johnston lived on the Greek Island of Hydra. In late 2015, artist Mark Schaller’s Melbourne exhibition, Homage to Hydra, featured paintings depicting Clift and Johnston’s island lives, with several featuring other residents from Hydra’s international population of writers and artists, including Canadian poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen.

The same year, Melbourne musicians Chris Fatouros and Spiros Falieros debuted Hydra: Songs and Tales of Bohemia, marrying Cohen’s songs to a narrative about Clift and Johnston’s time on Hydra.




Read more:
Friday essay: a fresh perspective on Leonard Cohen and the island that inspired him


In 2018, our book, Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreams and Drifters on Hydra, 1955-1964, told in detail of the fabled decade of Clift’s life as a bohemian expatriate.

To date in 2019, Sue Smith’s play, Hydra, has been staged in Brisbane and Adelaide, casting Clift in ways that resonate sympathetically with the concerns of contemporary audiences. As Smith writes in her script’s introduction:

Charmian was a woman ahead of her time. We see this in the choices she made both in her personal life, whether it be scandalising the Greek locals by wearing trousers and drinking in bars, to insisting upon her personal and sexual freedom and, of course, through her work.




Read more:
Sue Smith’s Hydra: how love, pain and sacrifice produced an Australian classic


‘Charm is her greatest creation’

Modern readers might respond to Clift the writer, but the focus on her years on Hydra suggests there is also great interest in her charismatic personality and tempestuous life with Johnson, as their dream of a cheap and sun-soaked creative island life slowly soured.

While researching the couple’s lives on Hydra, we came across a suggestive, eye-witness diary entry by a fellow writer, New Zealander Redmond Wallis, written in 1960.

Charm is her greatest creation, Charmian Clift, the great Australian woman novelist. Charmian is very curious. She is, potentially at least, a better writer than George but she has and is deliberately creating a picture of herself … which one feels she hopes will appear in her biography some day.

The head of a literary coterie, beautiful, brilliant, compassionate but still the mother of 3 children, running a house. Sweating blood against almost impossible difficulties – a husband inclined to unfounded jealousy, the heat, creative problems, the children, the problems foisted on her by other people … and yet producing great art.

Wallis’s observations are accurate, and prophetic, in noting Clift’s capacity for self-mythologising and her belief that both she and her Hydra idyll would be remembered. Nearly four decades after Clift returned from Greece to Australia amid the acclaim for My Brother Jack, she did become the subject of an excellent biography, Nadia Wheatley’s The Life and Myth of Charmian Clift (2001).

Nadia Wheatley’s biography of Clift.
Goodreads

But there were also failures amongst the success. The vision she and Johnston shared for a writing life on Hydra floundered amid poverty, alcoholism and illness. Their return to Australia in 1964 was an unlikely triumph for Johnston following the success of My Brother Jack, but Clift did not return with the same profile.

Wheatley also traced another of Clift’s great disappointments – her failure to complete her long-dreamt of autobiographical novel The End of the Morning, a struggle that was the subject of Susan Johnson’s 2004 novel, The Broken Book.

Clift did, however, leave an autobiography of sorts, in her newspaper articles. These often focused on domestic circumstances and everyday thoughts – ranging from conscription, to the rise of the Greek military junta after she left Hydra, to the changing social circumstances in Australia, and her daughter’s engagement.

These articles might not have always reflected the experiences of her readers – not everyone invited Sidney Nolan over for drinks – but Clift’s first-person narratives of a life lived with great passion and a sceptical eye to the consequences, garnered a large readership.

These readers responded to an incisive intellect with a vision of a culturally enriched Australia. She understood well the need for the country to outgrow its entrenched conservatism in order to realise its potential; and she emerged as a generous spirit who realised that the dreams and passions that drove her life were found everywhere in Australian suburbs.

Clift’s death reported by The Canberra Times in July, 1969.

Wallis’s detection of Clift’s hubris and narcissism paints her as a potentially tragic figure. It was a fate she perhaps fulfilled, when Johnston eventually wrote of Clift’s infidelities on Hydra. Clift took her own life on July 8 1969, an event that curtailed her voice while leaving behind a legacy of loyal and grieving readers.

A natural cosmopolitan

Clift’s is one of the voices – and one of the most important female voices – that rose above the crowd during the post-war period, as the western world unknowingly girded itself for the social revolution that was to come.

Through her columns she advocated for a bolder, more outward looking future, and as someone who was naturally cosmopolitan she was avidly interested in seeing Australia become more open to the world and better integrated into the Asia-Pacific.

She didn’t always get it right (an essay decrying the rise of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones stands out!), but she helped navigate the path to a more broad-minded and inclusive vision of Australia.

Over the years Clift has emerged as someone who was not only modern, but also engaged in that most post-modern of activities, self-creation. For while Wallis scorned Clift’s self-mythologising at the time, it might now be recognised as the finest gift of the creative artist – to re-make oneself in the image of a world yet to be made. It was her gift to her readers and Australia.The Conversation

Tanya Dalziell, Associate Professor, English and Literary Studies, University of Western Australia and Paul Genoni, Associate Professor, School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Annie Ernaux: at the age of 78 one of France’s great writers is finally wowing the English-speaking world



File 20190409 2924 gsmyos.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
Booker-listed Annie Ernaux.
YouTube

Elise Hugueny-Léger, University of St Andrews

It was 1974 when the French writer Annie Ernaux published her first book, Les Armoires Vides (Cleaned Out). It is a fictionalised account of her illegal abortion ten years earlier, as a student gradually moving away from a working-class upbringing in Normandy. The book came out 25 years after Simone de Beauvoir’s landmark feminist text The Second Sex, yet French society remained judgemental – and often hypocritical – about women’s reproductive rights. Cleaned Out acknowledged the many working-class women who had to resort to clandestine, often life-threatening procedures before the laws were changed in 1975.

From the beginning, Ernaux’s stark prose helped establish her as an uncompromisingly honest writer. In the 1980s and 1990s, she would rise to greater prominence through autobiographical works such as La Place (A Man’s Place), an account of her father’s life, which won her the Renaudot Prize in 1984. She is now seen as one of France’s major writers and her texts are widely taught in schools and universities.

But, until very recently, she was unknown to most of the English-speaking world. That is changing thanks to two recent translations. Les Années (The Years, 2008) is a “collective autobiography” spanning six decades of personal and collective history, and has been shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. In L’Événement (Happening, 2000), Ernaux returns to the subject of illegal abortion, but this time tells her own non-fictionalised story.

Two memoirs

The Years gained almost unanimous recognition when it was published. It sits at the junction between autobiography, sociology and collective memoir, highlighting the profound socio-cultural changes that Ernaux witnessed from her childhood in the 1940s to the end of the century. The book was praised for its original narrative form, using “she” or “we” instead of “I” to tell Ernaux’s story.

The Years, 2008.

To trace the inescapable passing of time, The Years draws in everything from popular phrases to songs to advertisements, from iconic objects to historical events to personal anecdotes. Along the way, the book tells the evolution of women’s place in French society and their fights for sexual freedom and independence.

When Happening was published in 2000, the French media reacted much more cautiously. It is likely that some critics were not comfortable with the subject matter and the raw style of writing. Here’s an extract, for example, about the woman carrying out the abortion:

Only now can I visualise the room. It defies analysis. All I can do is sink into it. I feel that the woman who is busying herself between my legs, inserting the speculum, is giving birth to me. At that point I killed my own mother inside me.

Ernaux has said that part of her intention with the book was to lift the lid on what the French abortion laws had meant in practice:

Although abortion was mentioned in many novels, no details were given about what actually took place. There was a sort of void between the moment the girl learns she is pregnant and the moment it’s all over.

Happening, 2000.
Wikimedia

With precision, but without pathos, Happening details the prevailing atmosphere of moral judgement of 1960s France – and Ernaux’s isolation and despair at a time when the word abortion “had no place in language”. She describes the gruesome conditions in which she nearly died: after finally finding a back-street abortionist, Ernaux had a probe inserted and was told it would cause her to miscarry in a few days. This then happened at her student residence and she was taken to hospital with a haemorrhage.

Happening is not only an account of this intrinsically physical, traumatic and personal experience. It is also about society’s attitudes to women at the time – particularly working-class women – explored through the reactions of various men to her predicament. The father of the unborn child, a middle-class student at the Sciences Po university in Bordeaux, leaves her to her own devices. Doctors show her little sympathy for fear of the laws of the time.

Ernaux in the 1960s.
Inventoire

Male students that she talks to are fascinated by her “condition”, and one even tries to take advantage in the knowledge that there’s no danger of getting her pregnant. Having been admitted to hospital, Ernaux is humiliated by a junior doctor, who on seeing her bleeding shouts that he’s “no plumber”. When he discovers that she is a university student, he becomes much more sympathetic.

Nearly 20 years after it was originally published, Happening has come to be seen as a landmark piece of writing about abortion. The text is now often mentioned during debates on the subject. Last year, for instance, on the day of the Irish abortion referendum, the radio station France Culture devoted a feature to Ernaux.

Distasteful truths

Ernaux acknowledges in Happening that “this account may exasperate or repel some readers; it may also be branded as distasteful”. The same could be said of much of her other work. Ernaux has written from the same direct perspective about numerous issues not deemed “literary”, including sex, stains, illness, the ageing body, dementia and drunkenness.

Writing is for Ernaux a matter of making lived experience visible, especially that of women – and not taking their rights for granted. As she writes in Happening:

If I failed to go through with this undertaking, I would be guilty of silencing the lives of women and condoning a world governed by the patriarchy.

Giving a voice to those being silenced lies at the heart of Ernaux’s writings. She spoke of her support for the #MeToo movement in a recent interview, but has also expressed affinity with the gilets jaunes, which she sees as a manifestation of deep social injustice and the elite’s contempt towards the working class and unemployed. This makes her “arrival” in the English-speaking world particularly timely at the age of 78.

When French politician Simone Veil died in 2017, many “merci Simone” tags were left on walls, not least for the crucial role she played in shaping the country’s modern abortion laws. Many readers have written to Ernaux to say “merci Annie” in acknowledgement of her feminist writings. She deserves to be recognised in the international canon of great French writers, and hopefully we are now finally seeing this starting to take place.The Conversation

Elise Hugueny-Léger, Senior Lecturer, School of Modern Languages, University of St Andrews

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Did a censored female writer inspire Hemingway’s famous style?



File 20190327 139374 14kkvab.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A photograph of Ellen N. La Motte soon after completing ‘The Backwash of War’ in 1916.
Courtesy of the National Archives, College Park, Maryland, Author provided

Cynthia Wachtell, Yeshiva University

Virtually everyone has heard of Ernest Hemingway. But you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who knows of Ellen N. La Motte.

People should.

She is the extraordinary World War I nurse who wrote like Hemingway before Hemingway. She was arguably the originator of his famous style – the first to write about World War I using spare, understated, declarative prose.

Long before Hemingway published “A Farewell to Arms” in 1929 – long before he even graduated high school and left home to volunteer as an ambulance driver in Italy – La Motte wrote a collection of interrelated stories titled “The Backwash of War.”

Published in the fall of 1916, as the war advanced into its third year, the book is based upon La Motte’s experience working at a French field hospital on the Western Front.

“There are many people to write you of the noble side, the heroic side, the exalted side of war,” she wrote. “I must write you of what I have seen, the other side, the backwash.”

“The Backwash of War” was immediately banned in England and France for its criticism of the ongoing war. Two years and multiple printings later – after being hailed as “immortal” and America’s greatest work of war writing – it was deemed damaging to morale and also censored in wartime America.

For nearly a century, it languished in obscurity. But now, an expanded version of this lost classic that I’ve edited has just been published. Featuring the first biography of La Motte, it will hopefully give La Motte the attention she deserves.

Horrors, not heroes

In its time, “The Backwash of War” was, simply put, incendiary.

As one admiring reader explained in July 1918, “There is a corner of my book-shelves which I call my ‘T N T’ library. Here are all the literary high explosives I can lay my hands on. So far there are only five of them.” “The Backwash of War” was the only one by a woman and also the only one by an American.

In most of the era’s wartime works, men willingly fought and died for their cause. The characters were brave, the combat romanticized.

Not so in La Motte’s stories. Rather than focus on World War I’s heroes, she emphasized its horrors. And the wounded soldiers and civilians she presents in “The Backwash of War” are fearful of death and fretful in life.

Filling the beds of the field hospital, they are at once grotesque and pathetic. There is a soldier slowly dying from gas gangrene. Another suffers from syphilis, while one patient sobs and sobs because he does not want to die. A 10-year-old Belgian boy is fatally shot through the abdomen by a fragment of German artillery shell and bawls for his mother.

War, to La Motte, is repugnant, repulsive and nonsensical.

The volume’s first story immediately sets the tone: “When he could stand it no longer,” it begins, “he fired a revolver up through the roof of his mouth, but he made a mess of it.” The soldier is transported, “cursing and screaming,” to the field hospital. There, through surgery, his life is saved but only so that he can later be court-martialed for his suicide attempt and killed by a firing squad.

A postcard of the French field hospital where La Motte worked.
Cynthia Wachtell

After “The Backwash of War” was published, readers quickly recognized that La Motte had invented a bold new way of writing about war and its horrors. The New York Times reported that her stories were “told in sharp, quick sentences” that bore no resemblance to conventional “literary style” and delivered a “stern, strong preachment against war.”

The Detroit Journal noted she was the first to draw “the real portrait of the ravaging beast.” And the Los Angeles Times gushed, “Nothing like [it] has been written: it is the first realistic glimpse behind the battle lines… Miss La Motte has described war – not merely war in France – but war itself.”

La Motte and Gertrude Stein

Together with the famous avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein, La Motte seems to have influenced what we now think of as Hemingway’s signature style – his spare, “masculine” prose.

Gertrude Stein – who would go on to mentor Hemingway – was close friends with La Motte.
Library of Congress

La Motte and Stein – both middle-aged American women, writers and lesbians – were already friends at the start of the war. Their friendship deepened during the first winter of the conflict, when they were both living in Paris.

Despite the fact that they each had a romantic partner, Stein seems to have fallen for La Motte. She even wrote a “little novelette” in early 1915 about La Motte, titled “How Could They Marry Her?” It repeatedly mentions La Motte’s plan to be a war nurse, possibly in Serbia, and includes revealing lines such as “Seeing her makes passion plain.”

Without a doubt Stein read her beloved friend’s book; in fact, her personal copy of “The Backwash of War” is presently archived at Yale University.

Hemingway writes war

Ernest Hemingway wouldn’t meet Stein until after the war. But he, like La Motte, found a way to make it to the front lines.

In 1918, Hemingway volunteered as an ambulance driver and shortly before his 19th birthday was seriously injured by a mortar explosion. He spent five days in a field hospital and then many months in a Red Cross hospital, where he fell in love with an American nurse.

After the war, Hemingway worked as a journalist in Canada and America. Then, determined to become a serious writer, he moved to Paris in late 1921.

In the early 1920s Gertrude Stein’s literary salon attracted many of the emerging postwar writers, whom she famously labeled the “Lost Generation.”

Among those who most eagerly sought Stein’s advice was Hemingway, whose style she significantly influenced.

“Gertrude Stein was always right,” Hemingway once told a friend. She served as his mentor and became godmother to his son.

Much of Hemingway’s early writing focused on the recent war.

“Cut out words. Cut everything out,” Stein counseled him, “except what you saw, what happened.”

Very likely, Stein showed Hemingway her copy of “The Backwash of War” as an example of admirable war writing. At the very least, she passed along what she had learned from reading La Motte’s work.

Whatever the case, the similarity between La Motte’s and Hemingway’s styles is plainly evident. Consider the following passage from the story “Alone,” in which La Motte strings together declarative sentences, neutral in tone, and lets the underlying horror speak for itself.

“They could not operate on Rochard and amputate his leg, as they wanted to do. The infection was so high, into the hip, it could not be done. Moreover, Rochard had a fractured skull as well. Another piece of shell had pierced his ear, and broken into his brain, and lodged there. Either wound would have been fatal, but it was the gas gangrene in his torn-out thigh that would kill him first. The wound stank. It was foul.”

Now consider these opening lines from a chapter of Hemingway’s 1925 collection “In Our Time”:

“Nick sat against the wall of the church where they had dragged him to be clear of machine-gun fire in the street. Both legs stuck out awkwardly. He had been hit in the spine. His face was sweaty and dirty. The sun shone on his face. The day was very hot. Rinaldi, big backed, his equipment sprawling, lay face downward against the wall. Nick looked straight ahead brilliantly…. Two Austrian dead lay in the rubble in the shade of the house. Up the street were other dead.”

Hemingway’s declarative sentences and emotionally uninflected style strikingly resemble La Motte’s.

So why did Hemingway receive all of the accolades, culminating in a Nobel Prize in 1954 for the “influence he exerted on contemporary style,” while La Motte was lost to literary oblivion?

Was it the lasting impact of wartime censorship? Was it the prevalent sexism of the postwar era, which viewed war writing as the purview of men?

Whether due to censorship, sexism or a toxic combination of the two, La Motte was silenced and forgotten. It’s time to return “The Backwash of War” to its proper perch as a seminal example of war writing.

Cynthia Wachtell is the editor of a new edition of:

The Backwash of War: An Extraordinary American Nurse in World War IThe Conversation

Johns Hopkins University Press provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

Cynthia Wachtell, Research Associate Professor of American Studies & Director of the S. Daniel Abrham Honors Program, Yeshiva University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What will happen to Michael Jackson’s legacy? A famed writer’s fall could offer clues



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Norman Douglas, photographed in Florence, Italy in 1935.
Carl Van Vetchen/Library of Congress

Rachel Hope Cleves, University of Victoria

There’s no question that Michael Jackson changed music history. But how will history remember Michael Jackson?

Since HBO released the new documentary film “Leaving Neverland,” which detailed allegations by two adults who say that they were molested by Jackson as children, the musician’s legacy – already complicated – is up in the air.

Jackson is not the first notable artist to be accused of sexually abusing children. Some, like Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, are still living and producing art that provokes discussion.

But there are other alleged child abusers who have died and whose works, once considered great, have faded into obscurity, in no small part because it is almost impossible to memorialize them without creating the impression of condoning their behavior.

The writer Norman Douglas is a prime example. The subject of a biography I’m working on, Douglas had a reputation for molesting children. After his death, he became an off-limits topic for biographers, and while he had his defenders, he ultimately couldn’t escape historical erasure.

Rumors do little to dim a budding star

During the first half of the 20th century, Norman Douglas was a literary star. Friends with Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley, he was best known for his bestselling 1917 novel “South Wind.”

Virginia Woolf sang its praises in the Times Literary Supplement. Graham Greene recalled how his generation “was brought up on South Wind.” When the hero of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” arrives at Oxford after World War I, he brings with him only two novels, “South Wind” and Compton Mackenzie’s “Sinister Street.”

But today Douglas is entirely forgotten.

The reasons why artists’ works go forgotten vary. In Douglas’ case, it’s fair to say that his erudite writing style went out of fashion.

But there’s more to the story. During his lifetime, Douglas was notorious for his relationships with children. In 1912, he lived with a 14-year-old boy in London while he was working at The English Review. Four years later, he was arrested in London for acts of gross indecency with a 16-year-old. After his release on bail, Douglas fled to Italy, where laws regulating sex between men and boys were more lax. He settled in Florence, where his celebrity only grew.

Norman Douglas plays with an Italian boy named Marcello, whom he likely sexually abused.
Pino Orioli, ‘Moving Along’ (London: Chatto & Windus, 1934).

Visitors to the city, like Huxley and Lawrence, would seek him out in the city’s cafés. The radical journalist and heiress Nancy Cunard, who met Douglas in Florence in 1923 and became a close friend, recalled the “aureole of legend” that surrounded him.

Douglas was always attended to by Italian boys who worked for him as messengers or cooks, and endless rumors circulated about Douglas’ relationships with these boys. A diary entry written by a friend of Douglas’ described how Douglas performed fellatio on a boy named Marcello. Brothers Sacheverell and Osbert Sitwell warned Cunard that Douglas was dangerous. D.H. Lawrence’s widow, Frieda, told her friend Dudley Nichols that Douglas was “the only wicked man I have known, in a medieval sense.”

Scrutiny grows

Britain’s strict libel laws, the norms of politeness and the power of Douglas’ celebrity seemed to prevent people from writing publicly about his sexual relationships with boys while he was alive.

But you can’t libel the dead.

When Douglas died in 1952, debate about his memory erupted in the press. The first signs of the battle to come appeared in the obituaries. British diplomat Harold Nicolson noted Douglas’ shocking “indulgences” in a death notice for The Spectator.

Nicolson’s article prompted 50 or 60 letters of protest from Douglas’ friends, but there was no holding back the tide. In 1954, Douglas’
former friend Richard Aldington published a book of vicious recollections about the writer titled “Pinorman,” a portmanteau of Norman and his friend Pino Orioli. Aldington didn’t mince words. He called Douglas a pederast whose path in life was “strewn with broken boys and empty bottles.”

Author Graham Greene was a staunch defender of Douglas and feverishly worked to protect his reputation.
Wikimedia Commons

Douglas’ friends were outraged. Cunard wrote to Aldington’s publisher accusing him of libel and threatening to wage a “collective protest.” She rallied Douglas’ friends to lambaste the book in reviews. Her own review for the periodical Time and Tide was titled “Bonbons of Gall.” Graham Greene wrote to a friend that he intended to “kill” Aldington’s book, and he penned a review for The London Magazine that was so incendiary it could not be published for fear of libel charges from Aldington, who was very much alive.

Greene maliciously sent Aldington the review and asked for permission to publish it. Naturally, Aldington refused and reached out to friends for help putting together a pamphlet attacking Douglas’ defenders. Frieda Lawrence contributed a story about how Douglas once casually offered her a boy of 14, saying that he preferred them younger. But the pamphlet was so intemperate that a lawyer said it would run afoul of the libel laws and could not be published.

The danger of choosing to forget?

Aldington was forced to retreat. With “Pinorman” disparaged by its reviewers, Aldington was discredited. It seemed that Douglas’ friends had won the battle.

But Aldington won the war. The truth was out there, and Douglas’ reputation was permanently injured.

In the decades that followed many would-be biographers tried their hand at writing Douglas’ story; time and again they failed. Douglas simply could not be remembered as a great writer in the face of the allegations against him. Only one comprehensive biography, titled “Norman Douglas,” has ever been published about him. It came out in 1976, during a rare moment of sexual openness; even so, the publisher almost nixed the manuscript after 10 years of work by its author, Mark Holloway.

Today Douglas is a forgotten writer. When the truth about his sexual relations with children was fully exposed after his death he became an impossible figure to memorialize.

Over time, it’s likely that Michael Jackson’s memory will be similarly eroded. The television show “The Simpsons” has already pulled its 1991 episode featuring Jackson. His name will likely be taken down from public monuments. People will be hesitant to produce new versions of his music. His influence will live on, but it will be difficult to commemorate his work.

Perhaps that is for the best. But maybe it isn’t.

Reluctance to preserve the memory of the extensive history of sex between adults and children leaves society ill-equipped to recognize and handle child sexual abuse today. A culture that is caught up in narratives that identify pedophiles as monsters has a hard time recognizing when beloved figures, like Michael Jackson, are molesting children right before its eyes.

There is need for history to remember abusers and to remember them in all their complexity. If Jackson’s memory is preserved, maybe it will be easier to see the present more clearly.The Conversation

Rachel Hope Cleves, Professor of History, University of Victoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hidden women of history: Tarpe Mills, 1940s comic writer, and her feisty superhero Miss Fury



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Miss Fury had cat claws, stiletto heels and a killer make-up compact.
Author provided

Camilla Nelson, University of Notre Dame Australia

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

In April 1941, just a few short years after Superman came swooping out of the Manhattan skies, Miss Fury – originally known as Black Fury – became the first major female superhero to go to print. She beat Charles Moulton Marsden’s Wonder Woman to the page by more than six months. More significantly, Miss Fury was the first female superhero to be written and drawn by a woman, Tarpé Mills.

Miss Fury’s creator – whose real name was June – shared much of the gritty ingenuity of her superheroine. Like other female artists of the Golden Age, Mills was obliged to make her name in comics by disguising her gender. As she later told the New York Post, “It would have been a major let-down to the kids if they found out that the author of such virile and awesome characters was a gal.”

Yet, this trailblazing illustrator, squeezed out of the comic world amid a post-WW2 backlash against unconventional images of femininity and a 1950s climate of heightened censorship, has been largely excluded from the pantheon of comic greats – until now.

Comics then and now tend to feature weak-kneed female characters who seem to exist for the sole purpose of being saved by a male hero – or, worse still, are “fridged”, a contemporary comic book colloquialism that refers to the gruesome slaying of an undeveloped female character to deepen the hero’s motivation and propel him on his journey.

But Mills believed there was room in comics for a different kind of female character, one who was able, level-headed and capable, mingling tough-minded complexity with Mills’ own taste for risqué behaviour and haute couture gowns.

Tarpe Mills was obliged to make her name in comics during the 1940s by disguising her gender.
Author provided

Where Wonder Woman’s powers are “marvellous” – that is, not real or attainable – Miss Fury and her alter ego Marla Drake use their collective brains, resourcefulness and the odd stiletto heel in the face to bring the villains to justice.

A WW2 plane featuring an image of Miss Fury.
http://www.tarpemills.com

And for a time they were wildly successful.

Miss Fury ran a full decade from April 1941 to December 1951, was syndicated in 100 different newspapers at the height of her wartime fame, and sold a million copies an issue in reprints released by Timely (now Marvel) comics.

Pilots flew bomber planes with Miss Fury painted on the fuselage. Young girls played with paper doll cut outs featuring her extensive high fashion wardrobe.

An anarchic, ‘gender flipped’ universe

Miss Fury’s “origin story” offers its own coolly ironic commentary on the masculine conventions of the comic genre.

One night a girl called Marla Drake finds out that her friend Carol is wearing an identical gown to a masquerade party. So, at the behest of her maid Francine, she dons a skin tight black cat suit that – in an imperial twist, typical of the period – was once worn as a ceremonial robe by a witch doctor in Africa.

On the way to the ball, Marla takes on a gun-toting killer, using her cat claws, stiletto heels, and – hilariously – a puff of powder blown from her makeup compact to disarm the villain. She leaves him trussed up with a hapless and unconscious police detective by the side of the road.

Tarpe Mills with her beloved Persian cat.
Author provided

Miss Fury could fly a fighter plane when she had to, jumping out in a parachute dressed in a red satin ball gown and matching shoes. She was also a crack shot.

This was an anarchic, gender flipped, comic book universe in which the protagonist and principle antagonists were women, and in which the supposed tools of patriarchy – high heels, makeup and mermaid bottom ball gowns – were turned against the system. Arch nemesis Erica Von Kampf – a sultry vamp who hides a swastika-branded forehead behind a v-shaped blond fringe – also displayed amazing enterprise in her criminal antics.


Author provided

Invariably the male characters required saving from the crime gangs, the Nazis or merely from themselves. Among the most ingenious panels in the strip were the ones devoted to hapless lovelorn men, endowed with the kind of “thought bubbles” commonly found hovering above the heads of angsty heroines in romance comics.

By contrast, the female characters possessed a gritty ingenuity inspired by Noir as much as by the changed reality of women’s wartime lives. Half way through the series, Marla got a job, and – astonishingly, for a Sunday comic supplement – became a single mother, adopting the son of her arch nemesis, wrestling with snarling dogs and chains to save the toddler from a deadly experiment.

Mills claims to have modelled Miss Fury on herself. She even named Marla’s cat Peri-Purr after her own beloved Persian pet. Born in Brooklyn in 1918, Mills grew up in a house headed by a single widowed mother, who supported the family by working in a beauty parlour. Mills worked her way through New York’s Pratt Institute by working as a model and fashion illustrator.

Censorship

In the end, ironically, it was Miss Fury’s high fashion wardrobe that became a major source of controversy.

In 1947, no less than 37 newspapers declined to run a panel that featured one of Mills’ tough-minded heroines, Era – a South American Nazi-Fighter who became a post-war nightclub entertainer – dressed as Eve, replete with snake and apple, in a spangled, two-piece costume.

This was not the only time the comic strip was censored. Earlier in the decade, Timely comics had refused to run a picture of the villainess Erica resplendent in her bath – surrounded by pink flamingo wallpaper.

Erica in the bath, surrounded by pink flamingo wallpaper.
Author provided.

But so many frilly negligées, cat fights, and shower scenes had escaped the censor’s eye. It’s not a leap to speculate that behind the ban lay the post-war backlash against powerful and unconventional women.

In wartime, nations had relied on women to fill the production jobs that men had left behind. Just as “Rosie the Riveter” encouraged women to get to work with the slogan “We Can Do It!”, so too the comparative absence of men opened up room for less conventional images of women in the comics.

A Miss Fury paper doll cut out.
Author provided

Once the war was over, women lost their jobs to returning servicemen. Comic creators were no longer encouraged to show women as independent or decisive. Politicians and psychologists attributed juvenile delinquency to the rise of unconventional comic book heroines and by 1954 the Comics Code Authority was policing the representation of women in comics, in line with increasingly conservative ideologies. In the 1950s, female action comics gave way to romance ones, featuring heroines who once again placed men at the centre of their existence.

Miss Fury was dropped from circulation in December 1951, and despite a handful of attempted comebacks, Mills and her anarchic creation slipped from public view.

Mills continued to work as a commercial illustrator on the fringes of a booming advertising industry. In 1971, she turned a hand to romance comics, penning a seven-page story that was published by Marvel, but it wasn’t her forte. In 1979, she began work on a graphic novel Albino Jo, which remains unfinished.

Despite her chronic asthma, Mills – like the reckless Noir heroine she so resembled – chain-smoked to the bitter end. She died of emphysema on December 12, 1988, and is buried in New Jersey under the simple inscription, “Creator of Miss Fury”.

This year Mills’ work will be belatedly recognised. As a recipient of the 2019 Eisner Award, she will finally take her place in the Comics Hall of Fame, alongside the male creators of the Golden Age who have too long dominated the history of the genre. Hopefully this will bring her comic creation the kind of notoriety, readership and big screen adventures she thoroughly deserves.The Conversation

Camilla Nelson, Associate Professor in Media, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Behrouz Boochani’s literary prize cements his status as an Australian writer


Keyvan Allahyari, University of Melbourne and Paul Rae, University of Melbourne

When the author Richard Flanagan described Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian asylum seeker currently held on Manus Island, as “a great Australian writer”, he turned tired cliché into a pointed question: what makes an “Australian” writer?

No Friend But the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani.
Pan Macmillan

Flanagan was writing in the foreword to Boochani’s startling book No Friend But the Mountains (Picador), which last night won the $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature, the richest of its kind in Australia. Boochani also claimed the award for non-fiction, worth another $25,000.

This triumph cements Boochani’s status as an Australian writer.

Boochani was arguably the most important literary phenomenon in Australian literature in 2018. In part, this is because of the distinctive qualities of No Friend But the Mountains, an epic work that moves between verse and prose, reportage and fantasy, the mundane and the historical. The fact that Boochani’s political memoir of what he calls Manus Prison was ever published in book form defies the odds.

A journalist and experimental documentary maker, Boochani wrote the book as text messages on his mobile phone, sending them, sometimes through several intermediaries, to the academic Omid Tofighian for translation into English.




Read more:
Truth to power: my time translating Behrouz Boochani’s masterpiece


Indeed, beyond the recognition of Boochani’s book as a singular achievement in its own right, its success this week highlights recent intersections of human rights activism and the vocal political position-taking of the Australian literary community.

The publication of No Friend But the Mountains was accompanied by numerous public events, such as one at the Greek Centre in Melbourne in October 2018, where the conditions detailed in the book were discussed and protested, and Boochani participated via Skype. The same month, A “National Day of Action” organised by Academics for Refugees featured public “read-ins” of the book on university campuses nationwide.

Other Australian authors have also used their voices to bring attention to the plight of asylum seekers. During her acceptance speech for her second Miles Franklin Award in August 2018, Michelle de Kretser chastised politicians for their treatment of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island. To illustrate her point, she read a list of names of asylum seekers who have died there in the past five years.

It is tempting to dismiss such actions as gesture politics by an urban elite. But each individual action has served to raise awareness of the Australian government’s policy of “offshore processing” for asylum seekers, and to fuse artistic expression with political activism in a particularly forceful manner.

At the same time, and perhaps uniquely in the history of Australian literature, No Friend has seen the translation of human rights awards into convertible cultural capital in the literary field. The author has been awarded the Anna Politkovskaya Award, the Amnesty International Award and Liberty Victoria’s Empty Chair Award. These humanitarian awards have confirmed Boochani’s rapidly acquired high profile in the literary field.

Last night’s news topped all of that to make Boochani the first “non-Australian” author to win the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. The Victorian government established these awards in 1985 to honour Australian writing. The specific challenge this poses to the definition of “Australian writing” can be seen as an intervention by the literary community into the field of politics. If a non-citizen who has never set foot on mainland Australia can win, who counts as an Australian author?




Read more:
Book Review: Behrouz Boochani’s unsparing look at the brutality of Manus Island


Ironically, perhaps, Boochani’s success simply mirrors some of the prevailing trends in Australian authorship in an age of global literary circulation, which allow writers to transcend national borders. An example of this phenomenon is Nam Le who rose to fame with the publication of his very successful The Boat. This collection of short stories, informed by the author’s diasporic identity and upbringing in Australia, soon earned him over a dozen major literary awards in Australia, the United States and Europe.

Conversely, Boochani’s status on Manus Island has been defined by deterrence, indefinite detention and the spectre of refoulement. The narrative of this experience is one that he seeks to address directly to the Australian people from beyond Australia’s borders.

With no clear solution to the indefinite detention of asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru in sight, the paradox of Boochani’s award success can only contribute further to public debate over the tangled logic of indefinite detention. It shows how cultural practices and political activism can be reconfigured to correspond with the newly created literary currency associated with refugee writing. For now, at least, Boochani is an “Australian writer” because Australia is morally implicated in what he wrote and how he wrote it.The Conversation

Keyvan Allahyari, PhD candidate in English, University of Melbourne and Paul Rae, Associate Professor, English and Theatre Studies, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.