'Australian literature is negotiating the relationship between its legacy as a national literature and its growing international reach. Scenes of Reading explores some of the key questions and issues arising from this moment of apparent transformation. How is Australian literature connected to other literatures? What potential might transnational reading practices have to renew the practice of Australian literary criticism? And as such criticism challenges the provincialising of knowledge, to what extent might perspectives routed through the literary province in turn challenge 'world' literature?' (Publisher's blurb)
In addressing the question of 'whether or not Australian literature is a world literature', Paul Sharrad looks at three scenes of reading: 'first, the public arena of the literary industry; second, the scenes of our own academic reading; third, the scenes that may result if we do move towards a world literature framework for reading Australian literature' (p.16). His discussion is illustrated with analysis of overseas reception of works by Thomas Keneally and a number of Aboriginal writers.
'Recent scholarship on the international dimensions of Australian literature has tended to focus on the ways in which Australian writers adopted and adapted overseas models, and demonstrated overseas influences in their work, or, conversely, on the extent to which Australian books were able to reach international readerships. Our concern, however, is with the larger, more diffuse phenomenon of overseas reading by Australian readers, and what we want to suggest is that Australia's 'world reading' in the interwar period - its people's efforts to engage with the rest of the world, affectively and intellectually, through the reading of non-Australian books - might be framed by seeing those efforts as being partly a constructive and outwardly directed, but at the same time self-protective, cultural response to a growing awareness of instability, threat and uncertainty in the world, and by a sense of the danger to which Australia's geographical isolation and cultural inwardness exposed it' (p. 51).
Nicholas Birns examines the transnational turns in Russian and Australian literature, with particular attention to the intersections of the two literatures.
'In this essay, I want to look back to an earlier period in the history of the international bestseller, when the modern genre system emerged in the Anglosphere. In particular, I want to trace the participation of Australian writers in this moment, focusing on their presence in the transatlantic book trade and their movement from Australia to Britain and the United States, and sometimes back again. 'Australian literature', in this view, was international (and not merely imperial) before it was ever national' (p. 86).
'The desire to challenge or escape colonial provincialism in search of a freer, more cosmopolitan modernity finds expression in three works of fiction by women writers that stage the drama of ferry wreck on Sydney Harbour, and that thread - as Wai Chee Dimock would say - local Australian scenes into the deeper time of world literature: Christina Stead's short story 'Day of Wrath' (1934), Eleanor Dark's novel Waterway (1938) and The Transit of Venus (1980) by Shirley Hazzard' [p. 102].
'This chapter turns its attention to the transnational impulse of Patrick White's works: their weaving in and out of spatial, temporal, cultural, linguistic and literary contexts. From as early as White's first novel Happy Valley in 1939, and as late as his recent posthumous novel, The Hanging Garden, dated 1981, we can trace this impulse. [...] Taken together, White's works reveal a consistent set of spatial reference points or coordinates, between and through which they move. These lie within, without and along national boundaries,at the sub-, supra- and transnational levels. This chapter traces the development of White's transnational aesthetic, his representation of transnational flows' [p. 137].
'The purpose of this essay is to delimit a zone of inquiry around three emerging and interlaced issues: the parallel history of digital computing and postmodern poetry, with attention to the digitisation of poetic thinking; various post-Enlightenment theories of poetic possession and intoxication; the legal issue of literary properties, both intellectual (as ideas) and real (as books)' [p. 148].
Lynda Ng reads three Australian works (two historical novels and a fictional biography) to demonstrate 'how contemporary Australian authors reflect the rise of global culture by deepening and broadening Australia's historical timeline. The willingness of these authors to show the indebtedness of Australian culture to that of other nations echoes Wai Chee Dimock's attempts to move American literature beyond its national confines by repositioning it on the scale of a planetary "deep time". Paradoxically, however, in these novels the incorporation of historical events that would not traditionally be regarded as Australian does not diminish the preponderance of Australian nationalism. Rather, it enhances the prestige of the Australian nation by representing it as an active participant in a network of cosmopolitan and transnational cultural flows' [pp. 165-166].
Nicholas Jose considers 'the language of Australian literature as being distinct from other Englishes in its relationship with Aboriginal English, a language that is used creatively in Aboriginal literature. Aboriginal English and Aboriginal literature have, in turn, their separate relationships with Aboriginal languages, many of which are lost, and with Indigenous knowledges, which they continue and communicate. Those other Aboriginal languages, known and unknown, shadow Australian literature in English and set it apart. To this extent, I will argue, Australian literature speaks a language that resists ready assimilation to Anglophone and world literary constructions' [p. 189].