Few chapters of Australian history reveal more about the shifting social, cultural, and political climate of a nation torn between its European roots and its Asian destiny than the story of Chinese migration and settlement. From the Chinese diggers in the gold rush of the mid-19th century, through the long period of discrimination and exclusion during the White Australia policy (1901–1970s) to recent decades of mass migration and extensive transnational traffic, China has been, and arguably remains, Australia’s privileged Other, and Chinese Australia a barometer for testing the nation’s commitment to the policy of multiculturalism. Chinese Australian writers imaginatively trace and interrogate this history, at the same time reflecting the heterogeneity of the community and debating their allegiance to the host nation and to a real as well as mythical China.
The first literary writing to emerge from the Chinese community in Australia was published in the Chinese language press in Sydney and Melbourne around the turn of the 20th century. It reflected the community’s passionate involvement in the political events of China in the lead-up to the republican revolution of 1911, but also their opposition to the White Australia policy and efforts to educate the lower classes to abstain from cultural practices unacceptable to the Australian mainstream, such as gambling, opium smoking, and polygamy. After a long hiatus, Chinese-language writing again blossomed in the 1990s, a direct consequence of the new wave of migration from mainland China following the opening-up policy of the 1980s and the crushing of the protest movement in 1989. Once again, this writing was community oriented, reflecting both their attitudes to the political climate in China and the challenges facing the new migrants in their integration into an at times hostile host culture.
The story of Chinese Australian writing in English is quite different, in terms of both the writers’ background and the nature of their output. The majority of writers are ethnic Chinese who arrived in Australia from Southeast Asia or Hong Kong, often educated in English and conversant with Western as well as Asian cultures. For these writers, and for those born in Australia, China is a distant, often ambiguous, cultural memory, and questions of identity are tied up with complex individual histories and hybrid ethnicities. From positions at the same time inside and outside the dominant culture, they engage with identity and belonging in innovative ways, writing into being a “Chineseness” that owes less to cultural roots than to their negotiation between community expectations and personal memory. Refusing to be pigeonholed or confined to conventional themes of diasporic writing, Chinese Australian writers respond to their diverse cultural and literary heritage and lived experience by inventing selves, voices, and stories that reflect the complexity of contemporary life at the intersection of local, (multi)national, and global perspectives.
On January 1, 1901, Australia became a nation; six British colonies—New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania—joined to form the Commonwealth of Australia. At the time of Federation, debates raged over who or what constituted a new national type; the forms best suited to convey the values these figures represented; and the proper settings for their stories. These arguments were had not only with aesthetic interests in mind but with a conscious awareness, or conviction, that literature had a special role to play in establishing what was (thought to be) unique about this new nation. Alliances between literature and the Australian nation have been observed, perpetuated, and contested since at least the last decades of the 19th century, and the result has been multiple imaginings of Australia with many conflicting ideas and interests at play. From the notion that Australia, as a “new nation,” might present white women with the opportunity to shed oppressive gender identities to indigenous knowledge systems questioning the very idea and authority of the nation, literary imaginings of Australia speak to national myths and political interventions alike.
Surveying Pakistani-English drama, fiction, non-fiction, and poetry from the inception of Pakistan in 1947 to 2015 reveals how Pakistani-English writing developed and changed over the years, from a small marginalized genre in the early years of Pakistan to the dynamic, growing body of work in the 21st century. Bringing together writing by Pakistan-resident writers as well as those in the diaspora demonstrates both contrasts and links among them. Early writers such as Shahid Suhrawardy and Ahmed Ali and the role of Taufiq Rafat in the birth of a new contemporary poetry in Pakistan are included alongside a discussion of the extensive writings of Zulfikar Ghose, an early diaspora writer. This article covers the critical writings of Alamgir Hashmi, Tariq Rahman, and Muneeza Shamsie in defining and developing a new canon. The internationalism of Tariq Ali and the new multi-cultural British identity asserted by the writing of Hanif Kureishi—and indeed Kureishi’s links to his Pakistan-resident family—poet Maki Kureishi and the journalist Omar Kureishi are pointed out. The extensive English-language non-fiction written in Pakistan ranging from autobiographies, collected editorials, and newspaper columns to writings on art and literature are also given space, as are the creative memoirs of Sara Suleri and others, the plays of Ayub Khan Din and Ayad Akhtar, the poetry of Moniza Alvi and Imtiaz Dharker, and a wide range of fiction writers from Aamer Hussein and Daniyal Mueenuddin to Nadeem Aslam, Mohsin Hamid, and Kamila Shamsie as well as newer voices such as Roopa Farooki, H. M. Naqvi, Fatima Bhutto, and Maha Khan Phillips.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. Please check back later for the full article.
It was a Victorian commonplace that the settler populations of British colonies like Australia and New Zealand were brash, uncultured, and barely literate. If they were materialistic and mercenary, literacy, and the consumption of books, was central to their acquisitive culture, not excluded from it. The colonial book and print trade was vital in colonial economies and Imperial exchange, and Melbourne, Australia, was the thriving heart of this trade for the second half of the 19th century.
Colonial reading markets echoed, but also magnified the transformations in the reading market brought about by distance, modernity, and mechanization. One example of this is in the configurations of “railway reading” and in some cases “tramway reading” in the colonies, which suggests that the slightly belated and somewhat more chaotic configurations of Australian colonial transport systems and movement, as seen in Australia, reflect—as well as facilitate—a slightly different pattern of reading.
Many prior studies have concentrated on segments of the colonial reading/writing population, and so the emergent picture has identified segmentation and sedimentation in the colonial readership. In a recent examination of British Victorian railway guides, Tina Young Choi suggests that railway guides were influential on a traveler’s experience of space and the ability to assemble a coherent narrative of their journey and travel through space. Tramway and travel maps in Australia, alongside fiction and diaries, suggest that colonial mapping and guides may offer a somewhat less clear narrative manual. Looking at the travels, reading accounts, and mapping localized fictions and readers further emphasizes some of the flaws in the previously neat pictures that have already been uncovered—that class divisions amongst readers, as on forms of transport, were fluid; that readerships intersected and overlapped in complex ways, particularly in terms of high, middle, and low culture; that gendered reading was not as segregated as had been mapped (or not mapped), subsequently. Finally, there were productive and disruptive divisions that may have been overlooked in a country made up of colonies, where even the gauge of the railway was not standardized between borders, well beyond the period of the British gauge wars.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. Please check back later for the full article.
We live, allegedly, in a “post-poetic” age. Over the last two decades, complaints about the status of poetry, and the parlous state of poetry publishing, have been commonplace in Australia and other Anglophone nations. Concomitant with this “discourse of decline” (a transnational discourse with a surprisingly long history) is a “discourse of return,” in which poetry is presented as returning to public culture (often through the literalized voice of the poet) to reoccupy the place it putatively held in earlier, if not pre-modern, times. But poetry’s engagement with public themes and the public use of poetry continue to be important, if sometimes overlooked, elements of Australian literary culture. Indeed, despite its apparent marginality, contemporary poetry could be said to have an ambiguous vitality in public life. While other forms of media continue to dominate public culture, poetry nevertheless remains public, in part by occupying or being occupied by those other forms of media. In other words, contemporary poetry’s ambiguously vital presence in public culture can be seen in the ways it figures in extra-poetic contexts. Such contexts are manifold. For instance, poetry and the figure of the poet are mobilized as tropes in other media such as films and novels; poetry is used as a form of public/political speech to articulate crisis and loss (such as at annual Anzac ceremonies); and it is used in everyday rituals such as weddings and funerals. Public culture, as this list suggests, is haunted by the marginal discourse of poetry.
In addition, poetry’s traditional function of commenting on the body politic and current political debates continues, regardless of the size of the medium’s putative audience. Recent poetry on the so-called “War on Terror,” the Stolen Generation, and asylum seekers illustrates this. But contemporary Australian poetry engages in public life in ways other than the the matization of current public events. Poets such as Jennifer Maiden, John Forbes, and J. S. Harry exemplify a group of poets who figure themselves as public poets in a self-consciously ironic fashion; acknowledging poetry’s marginality, they nevertheless write poetry as if it had or might have an extra-poetic efficacy.
Science fiction (SF) emerges as a distinct literary and cultural genre out of a familiar set of world-famous texts ranging from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek (1966–) to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008–) that have, in aggregate, generated a colossal, communal archive of alternate worlds and possible future histories. SF’s dialectical interplay between utopian optimism and apocalyptic pessimism can be felt across the genre’s now centuries-long history, only intensifying in the 20th century as the clash between humankind’s growing technological capabilities and its ability to use those powers safely or wisely has reached existential-threat propositions, not simply for human beings but for all life on the planet. In the early 21st century, as in earlier cultural moments, the writers and critics of SF use the genre’s articulation of different societies and different possible futures as the occasion to reflect on our own present, in ways that range from full-throated defense of the status quo to the ruthless denunciation of all institutions that currently exist in the name of some other, better world. SF’s global popularity has grown to the point where it now looms quite large over cultural production generally, becoming arguably the most popular narrative genre in existence, particularly in the sorts of SF action spectacles that have dominated the global box office of the first two decades of the 21st century. It has also become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the things we used to think of as SF and the advanced communication, transportation, and entertainment technologies that have become so ubiquitous and familiar that we now take them for granted, as well as the growing prevalence of political, economic, and ecological crises now erupting out of the pages of our science fictions, like our very worst dreams come to life.
As Australia and New Zealand gradually emerged as independent nation-states around the turn of the 20th century, the serial issue of literature became steadily less prevalent and influential. During the colonial era itself, with the local book industry still in its infancy, periodical publishers assumed a crucial role in the distribution of literary material and the formation of cultural identity. Trends already apparent in the metropolitan print market in the later 19th century were thus found in even more marked form at the Australasian periphery. Though prose fiction was by no means the only literary genre to be issued in installments, novels and short stories dominated to an overwhelming extent. And, while monthly literary magazines also had a significant qualitative role to pay, general weekly newspapers (or, more accurately, “news miscellanies”) were quantitatively the much more important venue in terms of both supply and readership. It is necessary to distinguish three major sources of provision, each constrained by distinct business practices and intellectual property regimes:
(A) metropolitan fiction, initially supplied through informal “borrowing” from British periodicals, but later distributed in broadcast fashion by British syndication bureaus like Tillotson’s of Bolton, supported locally by agents such as Gordon & Gotch in Melbourne;
(B) colonial fiction of local color by local authors, often for little remuneration, and typically flagged by phrases such as “specially written” for the local press; and
(C) other peripheral fiction, including from the British provinces, from other British colonies, and, last but not least, because of the lack of international copyright protection, from America (with New York story papers such as Robert Bonner’s Ledger or Street & Smith’s Weekly common sources).
All three types represented important influences in the process of negotiating community affiliation during the lengthy transition from colony to nation, but, though the first was undoubtedly most pervasive, in literary terms at least the second was by far the most valuable. The historical details concerning the cultural role of the press indeed serve to cast doubt on the more generic theorization concerning center/periphery relations found in the work of scholars advocating a “world literature” approach, who tend to focus exclusively on the market for books. To sum up in the words of Clara Cheeseman (1852–1943), a New Zealand serial novelist of the final decades of the 19th century whose fiction was exceptional in finding an outlet among the London publishers: “It is to the old newspapers that we must go if we want to see the beginning of colonial fiction . . . there are in the dusty files of these [the Australasian and the Sydney Mail] and other journals many stories of colonial life which have never struggled out of the papers into book form” (“Colonials in Fiction,” NZ Illustrated Magazine 7 (1903): 273–282, here 274). As early 21st-century research in this field attests, with the long-term commitment of both governments to making their press heritages digitally accessible via the “Trove” and “Papers Past” websites of the National Libraries of Australia and New Zealand, respectively, this task has now become a good deal less formidable.
West Indian fiction in the 21st century continues a tradition begun in the late 1990s as the fourth generation of Anglophone Caribbean writing. Though West Indian writing dates back to the early 19th century, West Indian literature began coalescing into a discrete field of study in the 1930s, motivated in large part by the political imperatives of anti-colonialism, political independence, and decolonization. Much of the fiction published in the late 90s to the present continues to adhere to the realist mode of representing Caribbean life—both in the region and in diaspora—as well as thematic engagements with decolonization, cultural nationalism, migration, diaspora, race, class, gender, and sexuality. Historical novels, modernist narratives, coming-of-age stories, and neoslave narratives remain significant features of West Indian fiction, in ways that are geared toward negotiating sovereign realties for individuals and communities that share a history of colonial domination, slavery, indentureship, and more recently, depleted cultural nationalisms.
In the last decade, scholars in the field have begun the work of theorizing the recent fictional output as constituting its own discrete moment in literary development. What is distinct about contemporary writing is the way in which some authors have begun to ironically rework now-familiar forms, themes, and politics of West Indian writing. Some recent West Indian fiction produces atypical, often incomprehensible, and ultimately dissonant conclusions designed to complicate the political priorities of previous generations. This ironic approach typifies 21st-century West Indian fiction’s skepticism about the nation building and identity politics developed in previous waves—in particular, the conflation of identity with sovereignty. At the same time, this fiction doesn’t simply reject earlier modes: one of its defining aesthetic features is a re-inhabitation of the central forms and politics of preceding waves, in order to complicate them.
The central feature of the fourth generation of West Indian fiction, then, is a continued engagement with the region’s history of colonization, slavery, and decolonization that is also marked by critical and self-reflexive engagements with the Caribbean literary tradition.