A View from Somewhere New (Review Essay)


At the 1998 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards the keynote speech was given by visiting English actress Claire Bloom. She admitted to the audience that she hadn't read much Australian writing apart from Patrick White's Voss, of which she was reminded as she flew over the 'empty' heart of Australia. She then mentioned David Malouf and proceeded to enlighten us colonials about Hardy (no, not Frank), Thackeray and all those wonderful Victorian novels that made her love literature so. And what did we wild colonial girls and boys do or say in response? Infrequent muted heckling aside, nothing. Those generations, movements and individuals who developed, and those still developing, a spirited critical culture in Australia were betrayed by a spineless cringing before the inane mutterings of a glib emissary from the heart of empire. A disgrace. And—as if to turn the knife—when Richard Flanagan (who won the Vance Palmer award for the best work of fiction) used his acceptance speech to condemn the proposed GST on books, the hissed protests were much more audible. That hoary old shibboleth: 'keep politics out of literature' seemed to have been let out of the same bag that produced the rejuvenated 'cultural cringe'.

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Published 1 May 1999 in Volume 19 No. 1. Subjects: Australian literary criticism.

Cite as: Syson, Ian. ‘A View from Somewhere New (Review Essay).’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 19, no. 1, 1999, doi: 10.20314/als.596a58072c.