ASAL Conference Report

Oliver Haag and Danica Cerce have participated at the recent ASAL conference in Wooloongong (July 2008). Here is Oliver's conference report. (Many thanks! I encourage other members to share their news and reports on other academic events too. Gabi Espak)


Report on the 2008 ASAL Conference

By Oliver Haag

This year's conference of the Association of the Study of Australian Literature (ASAL) was held in Wollongong from 29 June to 02 July. The event was something special. One the one hand, it marked the 30th anniversary of ASAL. On the other hand, the conference theme of ‘Australian Literature in a Global World' signified a turn into new and dynamic fields. The anniversary also brought up the issue of nationalism: in the late Seventies, a group of then young students founded ASAL in order to study a highly neglected field-Australian literature. Now, thirty years later, Australian literature has been hijacked by the right. The turn to a global perspective was also for the purpose of manoeuvring the subject of Australian literature out of nationalistic waters.

The comparative approach to Australian literature evinced in so many addresses and papers was intriguing. What is the bearing of globalisation on the concepts of national literature? What does Australian literature in a global context mean? Must it be concerned with Australia and/or authored by Australians? How are global readerships constructed? What is the role of the publishers in this atmosphere? These and many other questions were discussed.

Two broad issues characterised the papers: first, the impact of globalisation on Australian authors, publishers, and readers; second, the reception of Australian literature overseas, including the teaching, selling, and publishing of Australian literature. Most papers addressed the first theme. Ivor Indyk expounded the economical aspects of Australian publishing during the 1970s and 80s. John Beston highlighted the European and US-American influences on Patrick White. Danica Cerce engaged in a comparative analysis of Frank Hardy and John Steinbeck.

The overseas reception of Australian literature was covered by equally excellent talks: Cath Ellis told about her experiences of teaching Australian literature in British classrooms, while Carol Hetherington explored the enormous success of Arthur Upfield's novels in the US and Europe. Roger Osborne examined the US edition of Furphy's Such is Life.

There were also a few papers on Indigenous literature. Anne Brewster looked at the concepts of Indigenous sovereignty in Alexis Wright's Carpentaria. Susan Barrett focused on the marketing of Indigenous literature in France, while I myself explored the reception of Indigenous literature in the German-speaking countries.

The conference was a huge intellectual success. One negative, however, was the low number of Indigenous participants.