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Nicholas Birns Nicholas Birns i(A24281 works by)
Born: Established: 1965 New York (City), New York (State),
United States of America (USA),
Gender: Male
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Works By

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1 “Looking at Him, How It Hurt” : Tsiolkas’s Merciless Gods and Conjectural Literary Space Nicholas Birns , 2022 single work criticism
— Appears in: Journal of Australian Studies , vol. 46 no. 1 2022; (p. 7-18)

'The short stories in Christos Tsiolkas’s Merciless Gods (2014) offer perhaps his most complete and comprehensive portrait of the contemporary world. This assertion goes against conventional wisdom, especially in postcolonial literature, where the novel has long been a privileged form of speaking truth from the periphery to the centre, and in Australian literature, where what Timothy Brennan calls the “national longing for form” has typically dictated generic decisions. Tsiolkas achieves a greater coverage through fragmentation than through an ambitious total novel, particularly because of the juxtaposition of shocking detail and a fundamental and wholesome valuation of life. This valuation, however, is explicable by queer and post-political theorists such as Judith Butler, Wendy Brown and Jasbir Puar, and does not try to reconstitute a world anterior to difference and globalisation. Tsiolkas, while shocking the reader, also provides a conjectural affirmation of a plural Australia.' (Publication abstract)

1 [Review] The Rise of the Australian Neurohumanities: Conversations Between Neurocognitive Research and Australian Literature Nicholas Birns , 2021 single work review
— Appears in: Journal of Australian Studies , vol. 45 no. 3 2021; (p. 439-440)

— Review of The Rise of the Australian Neurohumanities : Conversations Between Neurocognitive Research and Australian Literature 2021 anthology criticism

'In her foreword, Paula Leverage is right to say that this volume, notwithstanding its title’s suggestion of the blossoming of a field, is more a “powerful statement about the human experience and its expression in a modern world” (xii). Although a range of contemporary Australian literary texts are analysed in light of theories of “embodied cognition” (xiii), there is nothing prescriptive or categorical about the overall approach of the contributors.' (Introduction)

1 The Scrub of Vicissitude : The Experimental Fiction of John Kinsella Nicholas Birns , 2021 single work criticism
— Appears in: Angelaki , vol. 26 no. 2 2021; (p. 124-134)

'John Kinsella’s achievement as a poet has overshadowed his fiction. But his narrative accomplishment is a considerable one. Whereas his poetry is usually classified as either experimental or “dark pastoral,” the fiction evades these kinds of categorizations. This essay delineates Kinsella’s fictional oeuvre, from the estrangements of his short stories to his recent series of short novels, novellas, and full-length novels, all of which feature a protagonist who is a version of himself, a Kinsella manqué, deployed against various speculative futuristic, or conjectural backdrops. This technique enables both a searing social interrogation and a questioning of the privileged self in light of racism, sexism, and white settler arrogance. Kinsella’s fiction often rewrites anterior texts or received genres. But, unlike so much other Australian fiction, it does not simply write into the global market or attempt to temporarily reanimate received paradigms. Kinsella’s fictions, such as Hollow EarthDjango & Jezebel, and Basket Z, are not conventional novels. But they provide a satisfying narrative through-line even as they prod the reader to think about their own place in the text and in the world.' (Publication abstract)

1 y separately published work icon Angelaki The Kinsellaverse : The Writing World of John Kinsella vol. 26 no. 2 Nicholas Birns (editor), Tony Hughes-d'Aeth (editor), 2021 21492030 2021 periodical issue criticism

'Criticism on the work of John Kinsella is made particularly lively by the fact that Kinsella himself practices so much criticism, and self-criticism, in his poetry, fiction, and essays. This can make it, though, harder as well as easier for the critic to operate, to gain a foothold or angle of vision, to trace without trying to rival the primary author’s creativity, ingenuity, and verve. Also posing a daunting hurdle is the sheer stamina Kinsella has as an author; that he produces so much in so many different genres that, while always remaining in a coherent field of meaning, is consistently original and diverse.' (Nicholas Birns, A Type of House-Paint for All Weathers, introduction)

'The extraordinary literary output of John Kinsella has thus far exceeded the capacity of criticism to deal with it. This special issue of Angelaki is an attempt to close the gap, but as the guest editors we are only too aware of how we must still fall short. This issue draws on a range of scholars who have followed Kinsella’s work, often over many years. While John Kinsella was born and grew up in the southwest of Western Australia, his reach has extended globally, particularly through the anglophone centres of Britain and the United States, but increasingly through other parts of the world including continental Europe and China. We will not attempt to catalogue Kinsella’s works here since, with Kinsella, such lists are almost immediately out of date. But more importantly, the totalising gesture of doing so runs against the basic ethos of Kinsella’s project. Despite its epic scale, Kinsella’s work always exists as an intervention and not an edifice. It has a negative capability, akin to the sublime and serial grandeur of paintings of the Last Judgement in Christian eschatology or the sprawling tableaux of medieval tapestry. But if his work is a tapestry, then Kinsella presents his images from the other side, as an assemblage of knots and ends. In this issue, we as critics have occasionally presumed to flip the work around and offer an image in more conventional terms, but readers will know that this procedure is something that must always remain critically contingent. (Tony Hughes-d'Aeth, The KinsellaVerse : The Writing World of John Kinsella, introduction)

1 All You Have to Do Is Look : An Interview with Donna Coates Nicholas Birns (interviewer), 2020 single work interview
— Appears in: Antipodes , vol. 34 no. 2 2020; (p. 222-232)

'Donna Coates is an associate professor at the University of Calgary, is a long-term member of the American Association of Australasian Literary Studies, and has served on the editorial board of Antipodes. She has published many articles on the topic of war, especially women in war, a field that she pioneered in the national literatures of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. She has taught and lectured frequently world-wide and has visited Australia many times. Donna also serves as the primary editor of the seven-volume Women and War (History of Feminism) series published by Routledge in 2020 and edited Sharon Pollock: First Woman of Canadian Theatre, published in 2015 with the University of Calgary Press. She coedited Canada and the Theatre of War, volume 1 (2008) and volume 2 (2010), with Sherrill Grace. Her publications also include two books coauthored with George Melnyk: Wild Words: Essays on Alberta Literature (2009) and Writing Alberta: Building on a Literature Identity (2017). Donna is currently completing a book on Australian women's war fictions.' (Introduction)

1 No Crossword or Chiasmus : The Self-Vexing of Literariness in Brian Castro's Blindness and Rage Nicholas Birns , 2020 single work criticism
— Appears in: Antipodes , June vol. 34 no. 1 2020; (p. 57-70)

'Brian Castro's Blindness and Rage: A Phantasmagoria is a verse novel published in 2017 and the unlikely winner of a Prime Minister's Award in 2018. This article concentrates on the role of France and French referents in the text, showing that they embody a literary, transnational cosmopolitanism that the text at once hails and critiques. Beneath the gaudy and flashy serve of the novel's erudite sheen, a self-questioning or even self-vexation occurs, where the text gets in the way of itself. By ironizing its protagonist, Lucien Gracq, and presenting the alternate personas of Catherine Bourgeois and the Dogman, and examining the realization that Gracq's writerly quest is also a propulsion toward his own demise, we see that the text's literariness is a kind of disguise. Yet the text's self-vexation does not involute it further; rather, it provides a way for readerly access into the poem, helping explain why, unexpectedly, this has proven to be Castro's most popular work with the Australian reading public.'  (Publication abstract)

1 Politics and Contemporary Australian Fiction Nicholas Birns , 2020 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Routledge Companion to Australian Literature 2020;
1 Stolen from the Snows : John Kinsella as Poet and as Fiction Writer Nicholas Birns , 2020 single work criticism
— Appears in: CounterText , August vol. 6 no. 2 2020; (p. 232-238)
'This piece explores the fiction of John Kinsella, describing how it both complements and differs from his poetry, and how it speaks to the various aspect of his literary and artistic identity, After delineating several characteristic traits of Kinsella's fictional oeuvre, and providing a close reading of one of Kinsella's Graphology poems to give a sense of his current lyrical praxis, the balance of the essay is devoted to a close analysis of Hotel Impossible, the Kinsella novella included in this issue of CounterText. In Hotel Impossible Kinsella examines the assets and liabilities of cosmopolitanism through the metaphor of the all-inclusive hotel that envelops humanity in its breadth but also constrains through its repressive, generalising conformity. Through the peregrinations of the anti-protagonist Pilgrim, as he works out his relationships with Sister and the Watchmaker, we see how relationships interact with contemporary institutions of power. In a style at once challenging and accessible, Kinsella presents a fractured mirror of our own reality.' (Publication abstract)
1 A Registering of Transformations : Alex Miller’s The Passage Of Love Nicholas Birns , 2020 single work criticism
— Appears in: JASAL , vol. 20 no. 2 2020;

'This essay discusses Alex Miller’s most recent novel, The passage of Love, (2017) in the light of the conspectus on Miller’s work offered by Robert Dixon’s 2014 study of Miller, The Ruin of Time. Despite Miller and Dixon having relatively different intellectual stances, Dixon has brought to bear both theoretical platforms and a deep immersion in Australian literary and cultural history to analyze Miller's work. This essay tries to continue in that tradition, analyzing Miller’s practice of the originally French genre of autofiction and the way this practice is tied in with a set of ethical dilemmas related to the registering of post-Holocaust and post-Mabo trauma as well as his own experience and those of his friends and lovers. In discussing how Miller’s surrogate, Robert Crofts, tries as a migrant from Britain to make a life for himself on an Australian continent with its own tragic history, the essay analyzes how Miller's practice of autofiction speaks to the particular circumstances of Australian literature within world literary space. ' (Publication abstract)

1 "Fireless flame gone amorous": War amid Love in 'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' Nicholas Birns , 2018 single work criticism
— Appears in: Richard Flanagan : Critical Essays 2018; (p. 179-191)
1 Nicholas Birns Reviews ‘Australian Books and Others in the American Marketplace’ by David Carter and Roger Osborne Nicholas Birns , 2018 single work review
— Appears in: Long Paddock , vol. 78 no. 2 2018;

'David Carter and Roger Osborne’s volume looks at publishing history as a form of literary history. The authors’ proficiency in the archive and their thoroughness of research tells a story of both the splendors and, far more, the miseries of the reception of Australian books in the United States.'  (Introduction)

1 The New Historical Novel : Putting Mid-twentieth-century Australia into Perspective Nicholas Birns , 2018 single work criticism
— Appears in: Commonwealth : Essays and Studies , Autumn vol. 41 no. 1 2018; (p. 7-18)

'This article argues that, since 2004 or so, a new kind of Australian historical novel has emerged among practitioners of literary fiction, one concerned with the mid-twentieth century. This new historical fiction has been characterized by an aesthetic stringency and self-consciousness. Though Steven Carroll and Ashley Hay will be the principal twenty-first-century writers examined, reference will also be made to several other writers including Carrie Tiffany, Charlotte Wood, Sofie Laguna, and to the later work of Peter Carey. In all these contemporary books, technology plays a major role in defining the twentieth century as seen historically.'  (Publication abstract)


1 So Touch Nothing : Fay Zwicky in Arcata, California, 1996 Nicholas Birns , 2018 single work essay
— Appears in: Westerly , no. 5 2018; (p. 53-55)

'I met Fay Zwicky only once, at the 1996 conference of the American Association for Australian Literary Studies held in Arcata, CA. But this occasion turned out to be memorable for me and, in a different way, for her. I already knew her poetry; ‘Soup and Jelly’, a poem I had read a few years before, stuck in my head for its image of a once-vigorous man now in an old-age home, a once proud man reduced to accepting soup and jelly from ‘a dark-faced woman’, an image of white male privilege empathised with but also slightly rebuked.' (Introduction)

1 A Wrong Way of Being Right : The Tormented Force of the Harrower Man Nicholas Birns , 2017 single work criticism
— Appears in: Elizabeth Harrower : Critical Essays 2017; (p. 38-53)
'Elizabeth Harrower’s fictions are often severe and enigmatic, and, although riveting in their surface action and exquisite in their style, do not immediately disclose their meaning. Yet it could well be said that if Harrower has a subject it is gender. All her novels are about gender relations and hierarchies. Indeed, the only way to ignore this is if we persist in seeing gender as a minor and provincial sphere, not heeding to the way that, as Raewyn Connell puts it, gender institutions affect all social institutions. This is even more salient as we realise how, in Connell’s words, gender differences can appear in one sense so “stark and rigid” and in another so “fluid, complex, and uncertain”.' (Introduction)
1 Three Poetry Books Nicholas Birns , 2017 single work essay
— Appears in: Transnational Literature , May vol. 9 no. 2 2017;
'Michael Sharkey has long been known as one of Australia’s most congenial, collegial, and agile poets and literary critics. One might have expected this anthology to be an assemblage of various tribute and assessments, all done with the urbanity and goodwill long known to be Sharkey’s hallmark. What a surprise, then, to realise that this collection, though indeed various, generous, and informative, tinged throughout with what Gordon Collier, in his preface to the book, calls Sharkey’s ‘evanescently ironical’ but not ‘acidulous’ personality (ix), is really dedicated to one theme: the shared cultural practices of Australia and New Zealand.' (Introduction)
1 1 y separately published work icon Teaching Australian and New Zealand Literature Nicholas Birns (editor), Nicole Moore (editor), Sarah Shieff (editor), New York (City) : Modern Language Association of America , 2016 9421541 2016 anthology criticism essay

'Australia and New Zealand, united geographically by their location in the South Pacific and linguistically by their English-speaking inhabitants, share the strong bond of hope for cultural diversity and social equality—one often challenged by history, starting with the appropriation of land from their indigenous peoples. This volume explores significant themes and topics in Australian and New Zealand literature. In their introduction, the editors address both the commonalities and differences between the two nations’ literatures by considering literary and historical contexts and by making nuanced connections between the global and the local. Contributors share their experiences teaching literature on the iconic landscape and ecological fragility; stories and perspectives of convicts, migrants, and refugees; and Maori and Aboriginal texts, which add much to the transnational turn.' (Publication summary)

1 Remembering Phyllis Edelson Nicholas Birns , John Scheckter , 2016 single work obituary (for Phyllis Fahrie Edelson )
— Appears in: Antipodes , December vol. 30 no. 2 2016; (p. 14)

'Phyllis Fahrie Edelson, who died in July 2016, was the founding book review editor of Antipodes. In her tenure from 1987-1994, she pioneered the wide range of reviews in different genres and categories that the journal still features today. Under Phyllis's editorship, large and small presses, national and regional writer and poets, novelists, and essayists were all treated with equal care and discernment. She established relations with writers such as John Kinsella, Peter Carey, and David Malouf that we still value today.' (Introduction)

1 Relocating Literary Sensibility : Colonial Australian Print Culture in the Digital Age Nicholas Birns , Nicole Moore , 2016 single work criticism
— Appears in: Teaching Australian and New Zealand Literature 2016; (p. 15-28)

'The beginnings of European settlement in Australia coincided with the consolidation of print culture in Western Europe. It was a chronicled invasion, a settling of posited imperial space both preempted and witnessed in the pages of northern hemisphere periodicals. Expansive print cultures sustained the careers of figures such as Samuel Johnson and Retif de la Bretonne, who newly made their living publishing their work, and generated political documents such as the United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution, meant to reach a worldwide audience through print. This coincidence is significant not only because of the large and varied print record of colonization itself made possible by the new technology (Bird 23). First Fleet accounts, such as Deputy Judge Advocate and Lieutenant Governor David Collins's 1798 journal of exploration and settlement, were published in a European metropolitan context in which colonial writings were much in demand, representing as they did the fruits of what may be termed Enlightenment globalization. European mapping, exploration, trade, and imperial control extended over many corners of the globe. Expanding understanding of continuing Indigenous histories of occupation, travel, and exchange witnesses this too. ' (Introduction)

1 Introduction Nicholas Birns , Nicole Moore , Sarah Shieff , 2016 single work criticism
— Appears in: Teaching Australian and New Zealand Literature 2016; (p. 1-13)

'Australia and New Zealand are linked by their South Pacific setting, English-speaking populations, and shared histories of hope for cultural diversity and social equality, in a context where history, starting with the appropriation of land from the Indigenous peoples, has often challenged those hopes. But Australia and New Zealand also have great differences. Maori (the Indigenous people of Aotearoa / New Zealand) and Pakeha (New Zealanders of European origin) have been in a legally constituted — albeit contested — relationship since the foundational Treaty of Waitangi of 1840. It was not until 1967 that Indigenous Australians were included in Australia's census, however, and not until 1976, with the first Land Rights Ad, that Indigenous Australians' dispossession saw major legal redress. And it was only in 1992, with the Australian High Court's decision in favor of the claim of Eddie Koiki Mabo to land on his Murray Island home, that settler Australia's occupying doctrine of terra nullius was overturned. Te reo Maori (the language of the Maori people) is one language, related to other Polynesian languages. It has the status of an official language in New Zealand, and public signs and documents are often in both English and Maori, the way English and French are both used in Canada. On the other hand, Australian Aborigines and Tones Strait Islanders speak a multitude of languages. That diversity has allowed the hegemony of English to be less challenged than in virtually any other English-speaking country. Of Australia's fifty officially surviving languages, only ten have recorded speakers of one thousand or more, and, of the two strongest, neither Arrernte from central Australia nor Dhuwal-Dhuwala from Arnhem Land has more than four thousand (Population Composition). Migrants from Europe and Asia have played a prominent role in Australian culture, but in more significant numbers only since the dissolving of the White Australia policy from the early 1960s; in New Zealand, contemporary cultural formations reflect a significant history of migration from the Pacific Islands.' (Introduction)

1 Sharon Faylene and the Woman from the Welfare : Heterosexual Fulfilment and Modernist Form in Criena Rohan's The Delinquents Nicholas Birns , 2016 single work criticism
— Appears in: Queensland Review , vol. 23 no. 2 2016; (p. 196-206)
'Criena Rohan's The Delinquents (1962) has always had a cult appeal — in 1989 it was made into a movie, starring Kylie Minogue as Lola and an unknown American as Brownie — and was recently reissued as a Text Classic. A short novel written by a writer who did not have a long career, and published between more commonly scrutinised periods of Australian fiction, The Delinquents is still, however, liminal. The Delinquents is very much a novel of rebellion and subversion, as its teenage protagonists, Brownie Hansen and Lola Lovell, pursue their love over the opposition of both sets of parents the police, the bourgeois consensus and everybody who is not them. By the fiery smoldering of its passion, though, their love sustains them and they emerge at the end, buffeted but united and resilient. This article argues that Rohan's book represents a Queensland iteration of a ‘regional modernism’.' (Introduction)