Highlights from the Asian/Australian Values: New Directions in Australian Literature Workshop
I attended this workshop along with Tom Cho courtesy of Wenche Ommundsen and Alison Broinowski who brought together writers, publishers and academics to discuss Asian/Australian Values. Much was quoted from the current Griffith Review issue “In the Neighbourhood”, which featured articles discussing translation and “contamination” as a way of literary cross-pollination.
A common thread of the conference was a discussion counterpointing the Howard era’s debate around Australian values and the then governmental interference in the teaching of history and English.
Robert Dixon in his keynote suggested that a renaissance of Australian literature was occurring with hybridity, fluidity and inauthenticity, words that characterised the globalisation of Australian literature. He saw that moving on from cultural nationalism was a positive step, although the media, and in particular The Australian’s literary commentators, had branded him a traitor to the national interest.
The activities of the Asian-Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN) were highlighted. An upcoming single day symposium running alongside the Australian Society of Australian Literature Conference in 2008 on Asian-Australian literature was one of the upcoming activities of the network worth noting. For further information, look up the AASRN website.
We were treated to Ouyang Yu’s poetic performance, including a poem read from a mobile phone, a short story from Dewi Anggraeni and an electrical half sung half spoken presentation from Merlinda Bobis.
Nicholas Jose commented on Asian-Australian writing as a place of self questioning, highlighting the slash in the workshop title and the constant questioning of the label “Asian-Australian.”
A panel on the “state of the art in Asian/Australian Literary Production” threw up some opposing points of view. Ivor Indyk viewed Asian-Australian writing as a marketing category and as a form of genre writing which concerns itself with questions of identity. He saw that this genre had continuity from other migrant writings rather than Asian-Australian being a ghetto of literature. Ouyang Yu commented on the interest in Australian literature in China and his experiences. Dewi Anggraeni talked about the publishing process and expressed the opinion that writers needed to work to capture audiences.
Tom Cho and I were accompanied by Paul Giffard-Foret on a panel about postgraduate and writerly perspectives. I talked about my own work and the need for a double consciousness when thinking about the reception of my work in the Australian public domain in regards to being Asian-Australian. Tom discussed how his work using popular fiction opens up space for his desires as an Asian-Australian man to be inserted in mainstream popular texts. We were entertained by his reading of his latest work, which is to be published next year by Giramondo Press . Paul Giffard-Foret discussed his view of Asian-Australian literature as an outsider, and commented that Asian-Australian Studies should remain in its current fluid form rather than become institutionalised like Asian-American studies.
The final panel discussed teaching of Australian literature in Japan, cross cultural issues and the teaching of Asian-Australian texts in Australia. The workshop was concluded by Alison Broinowski, who had an optimistic take on the future with a Mandarin speaking prime minister which she felt would lead to greater attention being paid to the Asian region and Asian/Australian literature production.
This workshop provided the impetus for many interesting conversations outside the main program and I am grateful to the generosity of the University of Wollongong for supporting my attendance there.
The Asian/Australian Values: New Directions in Australian Literature Workshop was held at the University of Wollongong on November 22-23, 2007.