Archive for the ‘conferences’ Category
Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
The Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association holds its 36th biennial congress in Auckland this week, with a focus on ‘Storytelling in Literature, Language, and Culture.’ Meeting from the 7th till the 9th of February, AULLA is a bit like a trans-Tasman version of the well-known Modern Languages Association in North America.
Reading through the congress program, you can see this is an important time for research into languages and the stories they can tell. Literary studies specialists are increasingly engaged with the stories that unite and divide countries and cultures. Poetry experts are explaining the meaning and importance of public trauma, testimony, and reconciliation in new ways. And cultural critics are offering clearer and stronger readings of the world financial crisis than many of the conventional economic disciplines.
Australian and New Zealand thinkers are breaking much of the ground to create this new momentum in the humanities. Europe and North America have recently commenced a decade of cutbacks in the arts and social sciences, but Australian and New Zealand institutions went through a similar period of waste and decline in the 1990s. Along with India, the new jobs for English speakers in these fields are now moving to Australasia.
So now, a growing generation of writers and researchers follows figures like Meaghan Morris and Witi Ihimaera in exploring and making use of the powers of stories and storytelling. They tackle questions of theory and practice, old questions of what stories say and how they say it, as well as new questions of how stories move us beyond the nation state to something more civil perhaps, or more heartless: the ‘market state.’
Now, growing numbers of language and literature devotees are questioning of the good and even the reality of nations, tackling the clichés and platitudes used to justify their existence. This is an approach the China-based Australian academic Meaghan Morris has made famous ever since her 1992 essay comparing the poetry of John Forbes with the public persona of Paul Keating. Morris’ work gives us the unsettling sense that we are nothing without our clichés — without the shortcuts we take when we perform as ourselves, or when we identify ourselves with larger groups, especially the nation.
In a very different way, it is also the focus of Maori writer Witi Ihimaera, most famous for his novel Whale Rider. Ihimaera talks about the consequences of national stories for the scope and imaginations of writers who live within them — but also about the ways that writers ultimately come to set those stories, because storytellers are always re-tellers.