The Colonial Present: Australian writing for the 21st century

Whitlock, Gillian, and Kuttainen, Victoria (2008) The Colonial Present: Australian writing for the 21st century. Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature (Special Issue). Association for the Study of Australian Literature, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

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[Extract] One of the first tasks for the organisers of the ASAL 07 conference in Brisbane was a meeting at the Liveworm Design Studio at Griffith University with students who would work on designs for the conference poster. This was an early and bracing confrontation with the question of what does The Colonial Present mean? The draft designs we received circled around various ideas, and all were prescient: they gestured to events in Iraq and Afghanistan; to the drought and other environmental issues; debates about Indigeneity; and graphic representations of Australia in comparative frameworks: across southern spaces, in relation to both Europe and the USA. The design we selected with its mutant flag and ornate traditional frame grasped the complex dynamics and contradictions of the concept "the colonial present" as it appears in Derek Gregory’s book of that title: an engagement with contemporary issues with a sense of how the legacies of the past continue to erupt and shape the present and produce engagements and relations beyond the nation. History, says Gregory, is always plural, always contested, and shot through with multiple temporalities and spatialities:

I speak about the colonial—rather than the imperial—present because I want to retain an active sense of the verb "to colonise": the constellation of power, knowledge, and geography that . . . [continues]to colonise lives all over the world. (xv)

For ASAL 07, this title and concept indicated an interest in the ongoing preoccupation with the legacies of settler colonialism in Australian writing (as these affect all aspects of the environment and its creatures); the need to explore more comparative and cross-national perspectives and connections; and those anxieties that were the subject of much discussion at the conference itself in July 2007: the future of Australian literature itself in the academy. The subtitle of the conference and this issue: "Australian Writing in the 21st Century" indicates our interest in the distinctive articulations of these issues and debates at a precise point in time. The turn to Australian "writing" also indicates our desire to open discussion to all kinds of contemporary work, including life narrative. Chris Masters's reading from his biography of Alan Jones, Jonestown, was a memorable highlight of the conference, and so too was David Malouf speaking autobiographically of the Brisbane River at the conference dinner, which was located as close as we could manage to 12 Edmondstone Street.

Item ID: 15720
Item Type: Book (Edited)
ISSN: 1447-8986
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This record is published as a special edition in 2008 of Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature.

Date Deposited: 26 Jun 2013 01:31
FoR Codes: 20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2005 Literary Studies > 200502 Australian Literature (excl Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Literature) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9502 Communication > 950203 Languages and Literature @ 100%
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