University Of Tasmania
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Australian literature : a study of the construction of short fiction in the Australian literary field

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posted on 2023-05-26, 18:31 authored by Holden, S
On the face of it, terms like 'the author,' the canon,' literature' - and its many sub-categories, 'lyrical poetry,' Australian short fiction,' and so on - appear simply to describe essential, objective, positive, things. While such terms are certainly descriptive, they have a much more fundamental function, in fact constructing the two main properties that make up cultural activity of a text-based kind: who can be thought of and who counts in cultural production; and what can be thought of what counts as a cultural product. Questions about who makes and values certain kinds of texts are questions about the nature of the cultural field in which agents and their products compete. They are questions which attempt to dislodge the view that literature can be thought of as a set of cultural products which exhibit special features (literary features) that can be identified by disinterested users of this literature. In order to answer such questions, as I try to do in Part 1, I have cast my net widely across a range of literary, sociological, historical and institutional theories to uncover some of the practices that determine how agents operate in the cultural field, to show how 'the author' and 'the text' are not simple, objective categories to be consumed by 'the reader.' Rather, 'the author,' the text' and 'the reader' are the outcomes of contests between various players, embedded for longer or shorter periods in the practices current in the field. So-called post-structuralist theory and the cultural theory of Michel Foucault, in problematising cultural production, provide a useful starting point for an examination in Chapter 1 of the problem of the author, authority and authorising as social practices. No longer free-standing and neutral, cultural producers and the texts they produce become interested parties in a cultural system. But such a view opens up a new set of problems: to do with the view of a cultural producer or text as a kind of automaton in the system; and to do with the question of the capacity for social agents to effect change in that system. I turn to social theory in order to explain how it is that social agents are more than the ghosts in the machine that post-structuralist theory might suggest, at once able to obey and to change the prescriptions that pre-exist at any particular cultural moment in which texts are used. To see why particular kinds of cultural agent and product characterise and endure in the cultural field requires an understanding of the historically constructed and institutional ways in which the field works. Writing and reading books are institutional practices and the agents who have, since the eighteenth century, been credited in western culture with the central place in this cultural production have, as I try to show in Chapter 2, continued to occupy this position by virtue of institutions which foreground writing as a product of the originary genius of the individual, autonomous and copyrightowning author. Authors, that is, are products of historically particular social practices which apply in the field of cultural production. They occupy a social position which has been reasonably durable, my focus in Chapter 3, because the chronically recurring commercial and pedagogical practices embedded in institutional behaviour continue to have a hand in the consecration of the individuals who achieve the name 'author' and in the initial production and subsequent valorising of particular 'literary' texts. My method in Part 2 is to examine several case studies in order to see how agents and institutions in the cultural field work in more detail. My focus is to show how short story anthologies, critical studies and other key practices construct 'Australian short fiction.' Anthologies are a major institution in the production and reproduction of the sub-field of 'Australian short fiction.' They help to determine what is to count as 'Australian short fiction,' who are to count as writers, editors and critics of 'Australian short fiction' and how 'Australian short fiction' is to be read. Apparently objective cultural landmarks like 'The Bulletin style,' Australian women's writing' and 'The Balmain school' - case studies examined in Chapters 4 and 5 - each owe a great deal to short story anthologies. Anthologies are not, of course, the only institutions that determine the sub-field, as I show in Chapter 6. Reference guides and critical studies function in the same way, determining, for example, what 'fiction' or 'the work of David Malouf means and how it is to be read. But the personnel who produce, deliver and consume certain kinds of content, the activity that dominates the sub-field of 'Australian short fiction,' are also maintained by means of other institutions, like 'small magazines,' Australia Council grants and 'Writers in Residence' programs, writers' festivals, and so on, my focus in Chapter 7. In the pages that follow I suggest that there is some kind of bedrock 'reality,' an objective mechanism that constructs the object called 'the cultural field' that my analysis has 'uncovered.' Besides this archaeological trope, a favourite of mine, my 'case studies' also imply a kind of quasi-scientific objectivity. Analytical 'study' stands outside, usually above, the 'cases' which I scrutinise in Part Two. But if I am right, if texts are the products of always contestable and historically contingent social practices, then the same must be true of my own text too: it is as much a case to be studied and, if studied, can be shown to be equally the product of always contestable and contingent social practices. This is not cause for panic, merely for caution. My thesis is not an attempt to get any closer to the truth, only to suggest how we might reorientate ourselves to some texts.


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Copyright 1998 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1999. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 273-285)

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