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Australian literature : a study of the construction of short fiction in the Australian literary field

Holden, S 1998 , 'Australian literature : a study of the construction of short fiction in the Australian literary field', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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On the face of it, terms like 'the author,' the canon,' literature' -
and its many sub-categories, 'lyrical poetry,' Australian short fiction,'
and so on - appear simply to describe essential, objective, positive,
things. While such terms are certainly descriptive, they have a
much more fundamental function, in fact constructing the two
main properties that make up cultural activity of a text-based kind:
who can be thought of and who counts in cultural production; and
what can be thought of what counts as a cultural product.
Questions about who makes and values certain kinds of texts
are questions about the nature of the cultural field in which agents
and their products compete. They are questions which attempt to
dislodge the view that literature can be thought of as a set of cultural
products which exhibit special features (literary features) that can be
identified by disinterested users of this literature. In order to answer
such questions, as I try to do in Part 1, I have cast my net widely
across a range of literary, sociological, historical and institutional
theories to uncover some of the practices that determine how agents
operate in the cultural field, to show how 'the author' and 'the text'
are not simple, objective categories to be consumed by 'the reader.'
Rather, 'the author,' the text' and 'the reader' are the outcomes of
contests between various players, embedded for longer or shorter periods
in the practices current in the field. So-called post-structuralist theory and the cultural theory of
Michel Foucault, in problematising cultural production, provide a
useful starting point for an examination in Chapter 1 of the problem
of the author, authority and authorising as social practices. No
longer free-standing and neutral, cultural producers and the texts
they produce become interested parties in a cultural system. But
such a view opens up a new set of problems: to do with the view of a
cultural producer or text as a kind of automaton in the system; and
to do with the question of the capacity for social agents to effect
change in that system. I turn to social theory in order to explain how
it is that social agents are more than the ghosts in the machine that
post-structuralist theory might suggest, at once able to obey and to change the prescriptions that pre-exist at any particular cultural
moment in which texts are used.
To see why particular kinds of cultural agent and product
characterise and endure in the cultural field requires an understanding
of the historically constructed and institutional ways in which
the field works. Writing and reading books are institutional practices
and the agents who have, since the eighteenth century, been credited
in western culture with the central place in this cultural production
have, as I try to show in Chapter 2, continued to occupy this position
by virtue of institutions which foreground writing as a product of
the originary genius of the individual, autonomous and copyrightowning
author. Authors, that is, are products of historically particular
social practices which apply in the field of cultural production.
They occupy a social position which has been reasonably durable, my
focus in Chapter 3, because the chronically recurring commercial
and pedagogical practices embedded in institutional behaviour continue
to have a hand in the consecration of the individuals who
achieve the name 'author' and in the initial production and subsequent
valorising of particular 'literary' texts.
My method in Part 2 is to examine several case studies in order to
see how agents and institutions in the cultural field work in more
detail. My focus is to show how short story anthologies, critical studies
and other key practices construct 'Australian short fiction.'
Anthologies are a major institution in the production and reproduction
of the sub-field of 'Australian short fiction.' They help to determine
what is to count as 'Australian short fiction,' who are to
count as writers, editors and critics of 'Australian short fiction' and
how 'Australian short fiction' is to be read. Apparently objective cultural
landmarks like 'The Bulletin style,' Australian women's writing'
and 'The Balmain school' - case studies examined in Chapters 4
and 5 - each owe a great deal to short story anthologies.
Anthologies are not, of course, the only institutions that determine
the sub-field, as I show in Chapter 6. Reference guides and
critical studies function in the same way, determining, for example,
what 'fiction' or 'the work of David Malouf means and how it is to
be read. But the personnel who produce, deliver and consume
certain kinds of content, the activity that dominates the sub-field of 'Australian short fiction,' are also maintained by means of other
institutions, like 'small magazines,' Australia Council grants and
'Writers in Residence' programs, writers' festivals, and so on, my
focus in Chapter 7.
In the pages that follow I suggest that there is some kind of
bedrock 'reality,' an objective mechanism that constructs the object
called 'the cultural field' that my analysis has 'uncovered.' Besides
this archaeological trope, a favourite of mine, my 'case studies' also
imply a kind of quasi-scientific objectivity. Analytical 'study' stands
outside, usually above, the 'cases' which I scrutinise in Part Two. But
if I am right, if texts are the products of always contestable and historically
contingent social practices, then the same must be true of
my own text too: it is as much a case to be studied and, if studied, can
be shown to be equally the product of always contestable and contingent
social practices. This is not cause for panic, merely for caution.
My thesis is not an attempt to get any closer to the truth, only to suggest
how we might reorientate ourselves to some texts.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Holden, S
Keywords: Australian literature, Australian fiction, Short stories, Australian
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 1998 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1999. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 273-285)

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