Professing the Popular : Political Fiction circa 2006

THE Australian's so-called 'Patrick White hoax' of July 2006, a dramatic confirmation of what Mark Davis has called the 'decline of the literary paradigm', spoke to the fears of many people with a professional investment in Australian literature and Australian literary studies. Of course, it was designed to do this. As Davis writes, 'the book pages of broadsheet newspapers have set themselves up as nostalgic guardians of a (mid-list) literary culture at odds with both the "postmodemist" academy and the new commercial imperatives' (103). Chapter Three of White's The Eye of the Storm was submitted to a representative group of editors and publishers under the name Wraith Picket. The response indicated that the Nobel Prize winner's chances of getting published today would be very slim indeed. There was clearly a yearning for a good story behind the experiment; The Eye of the Storm is not White's most accessible work and the results of the exercise might well have been different had the Australian used The Twyborn Affair or Riders in the Chariot, both of which raise issues more likely to resonate with contemporary readers. Still, what was disconcerting about the results of the hoax was not simply the fact that no one seemed to recognise White's prose (especially baffling given the obviousness of the pseudonym and the clue in the title of the manuscript, The Eye of the Cyclone), but the naturalness with which publishers from a diverse range of presses could simply appeal to commercial viability as a rationalisation for their decisions and their ignorance. Never before, it seems, had competing conceptions of value - commercial value and aesthetic value - been so far apart.

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Published 1 October 2007 in Volume 23 No. 2. Subjects: Political fiction, Patrick White.

Cite as: McCann, Andrew. ‘Professing the Popular : Political Fiction circa 2006.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 23, no. 2, 2007, doi: 10.20314/als.630d23435d.