Review of Artful Histories: Modern Australian Autobiography, Autographs: Contemporary Australian Autobiography, and The Cartographic Eye: How Explorers Saw Australia

Each of these books shares certain preoccupations: Artful Histories and Autographs obviously with the nature and function of autobiography as a genre; all three with issues to do with the potential and problems of narrative and narrating, and with what David McCooey calls 'narrative lives', including the complex processes whereby what we might think of as our individual experience is translated, taken up by and transformed within narratives of different kinds, here personal ones. In this sense, each is also concerned with the nature of subjectivity; with the ways selves are constructed and, importantly, the ways they might understand their existence in relation to their social, historical, psychological, indeed their narratological contexts. Further, each works to a greater or lesser extent with the idea of mapping, that popular contemporary theoretical metaphor for the potential of different discourses to chart a reality. Such mappings in turn depend on and are represented through sets of ideological assumptions and discursive constructions. Each book is, therefore, informed by contemporary theories and debates from literary criticism, cultural studies and postcolonial studies. Further, and perhaps most interestingly, each is dealing with its various preoccupations and deploying its theories in relation to Australian realities. Simon Ryan uses a contemporary post- structuralist perspective to re-read an aspect of Australia's colonial past. Through narratives of travel, specifically the journals of explorers, Ryan uncovers and analyses the maps by which these authoritarian, imperialist observers 'discovered' Australia. David McCooey is most interested in the intersections of self, history, and the nation and the ways Australian autobiographers speak their version of 'Australian' selves. And Gillian Whitlock has edited a collection of extracts from the writings of those she calls 'disobedient selves', writers whose work refuses in one way or another to comply with the traditional conventions of autobiography, and who convey often questioning, sceptical or nonconforming versions of selfhood in Australia.

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Published 1 May 1997 in Volume 18 No. 1. Subjects: Autobiographical writing.

Cite as: Bird, Delys. ‘Review of Artful Histories: Modern Australian Autobiography, Autographs: Contemporary Australian Autobiography, and The Cartographic Eye: How Explorers Saw Australia.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 18, no. 1, 1997. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.7d539e05c8.