Xiang Li on ’The Drover’s Wife’ Stories

Rewriting, Reflecting and Resisting: Gender, Reception and ‘The Drover’s Wife’ Stories

Thursday 5 May, 4.30-6pm, A. D. Hope Conference Room.

Henry Lawson’s 1892 short story ‘The Drover’s Wife’ has inspired many reinterpretations over the years. The constant (re)reading and (re)writing of the story enable discussions of and debates over gender, race, national identity and Australian culture. From Murray Bail’s 1975 short story to Leah Purcell’s 2021 film, the idea of ‘The Drover’s Wife’ has grown into a unique phenomenon in the Australian literary and cultural landscape. Previous scholarship tends to revolve around Lawson’s original and a few well-known stories from the 1970s and 1980s. This thesis examines the ‘wife’ phenomenon in its entirety, with a particular focus on recent renditions such as Ryan O’Neill’s 99 Reinterpretations (2018) and Purcell’s multi-genre adaptation project. Drawing on concepts from rewriting theory, reception theory, gender studies as well as cultural history, the thesis captures the way changing conceptions of gendered identities inform both the critical and creative reception of ‘The Drover’s Wife’ from the 1890s to where we are now.

Xiang Li is a PhD candidate in Australian literature at ANU.

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Contact: Russell.Smith@anu.edu.au for further enquiries or to obtain the zoom link


Paul Magee on “the Retrospective Nature of Poetic Mimesis”

Bringing the Original into Being by Copying It: On the Retrospective Nature of Poetic Mimesis

Thursday 28 April, 4.30-6pm, A. D. Hope Conference Room.

For zoom link for this event and/or to be added to the CuSPP member list contact: Russell.Smith@anu.edu.au

A long line of commentators (Johnson 1751; Attridge 1982; Ford 2021) have pointed out how little the sounds in any given line of poetry relate to the actual sounds (e.g. the pounding of horses’ hooves) they are purported to imitate—even as poets and critics continue to assess poetic soundscapes in such terms. Could it be that the mimesis in question is less about imitating a pre-existing reality than producing, by insisting on it, a link between a meaning like “horses hooves” and a suggestive soundscape, that will come to sound like horse’s hooves for ever afterward? Maybe this is what actors do more generally: create what will come to be taken as imitation. The paper proceeds to argue that the rightness associated with poetic coinages partakes of a similar retrospectivity. In sum, the poet’s mot juste (“perfect word”) is not opposite to, but rather predicated upon, a direct engagement with arbitrariness.

Paul Magee is author of Stone Postcard (John Leonard Press 2014), Cube Root of Book (John Leonard Press 2006) and the prose ethnography From Here to Tierra del Fuego (University of Illinois Press, 2000). Suddenness and the Composition of Poetic Thought is forthcoming from Rowman & Littlefield International’s Performance Philosophy series in April 2022. Paul is Associate Professor of Poetry at the University of Canberra.

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Louisa Kirk, “Women’s Friendship in 20th Century American Novels”.

A matrix of becoming: Women’s friendship in 20th century American novels
(Exit Seminar)

Thursday 24 March, 4.30-6pm, A. D. Hope Conference Room.

For zoom link for this event and/or to be added to the CuSPP member list contact: Russell.Smith@anu.edu.au

Few women would disagree with the idea that female friendship is—alongside the romantic and familial—one of the social pillars upon which their life is built. Certainly, women’s writing throughout space and time reflects its significance. However, women’s friendship has been largely academically ignored with some key exceptions and a peak of interest in 1970s and 80s feminist writing. Since Aristotle, when friendship is studied, it is most often by men and, although not announced as such, when male scholars write of ‘friendship’ they tend to universalise the specifics of male friendship. This presentation presents the work of my thesis to address the question, ‘What is friendship to women in literature?’ I present an original contribution drawing on Bracha Ettinger’s work on the matrixial to argue for a new theorisation of female friendship through the close reading of novels written by American women in the 20th century. In my understanding, female friendship is a space between two or more women co-created and co-constrained by its participants. Female friendship is produced by psychic (re)encounter and requires a play of closeness and distance in a way that is specific to female friendship and differentiates it from women’s other relationships.

Louisa Browne Kirk is a PhD candidate in literature at the ANU. She is an intersectional feminist and a writer and researcher on women’s textual friendship.

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Leslie Barnes, ”Smoke and Mirrors”

“Smoke and Mirrors: Sex Work and Rithy Panh’s Cinematic Image”

Thursday 24 February, 4.30-6pm, A. D. Hope Conference Room.

For zoom link and further enquiries contact: Russell.Smith@anu.edu.au

This paper examines the narrative authority of the sex worker in Rithy Panh’s Un Soir après la guerre (1998) and Le Papier ne peut pas envelopper la braise (2007), two films that counter the discourses surrounding sex work with the voices and lived experiences of individual sex workers. When read together, the feature and the documentary question the divide and hierarchy between fiction and nonfiction, both in terms of genre distinctions and in relation to the subject of each film: the reality and representation of sex work. Drawing on theories of cinema as window and mirror and developing Panh’s use of windows and mirrors in each film, I argue that Panh’s cinematic image of sex work challenges the assumption of a ‘transparent’ relationship between the cinematic production and the profilmic event, undoing the presumed links between perception, action, and effect. The extent to which this image upsets filmic norms and ‘epistephilic’ desire, that is, the desire on the part of the viewer to know and to connect knowing with acting, is evidenced in the films’ critical and popular reception, which reveals an ongoing discomfort before the sex worker who speaks for herself.

Leslie Barnes is Associate Professor of French Studies at ANU. She is author of Vietnam and the Colonial Condition of French Literature (Nebraska, 2014) and co-editor of The Cinema of Rithy Panh: Everything Has a Soul (Rutgers, 2021). Her current project studies literary and cinematic narratives that engage with questions of sex work, mobility, and human rights in Southeast Asia. She has published on these and other subjects in Journal of Vietnamese StudiesModern Language Notes, and Humanity.

Monique Rooney on CATS as Elemental Melodrama

Join us for the next CuSPP Seminar (taking place via zoom)

Thursday 9 December, 4.30 – 6pm (see CuSPP email or contact monique.rooney@anu.edu.au for zoom link).

Elemental Limits: Cats (2019), Melodrama and the Heaviside Layer

From its inaugural performance at the New London Theatre (1981), Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats has been a blockbuster success recognised for its role in sparking a new era of musical-theatre. Described as an ‘immense affective encompasser’ (Siropoulos), Cats became more than a performance as it offered both a (globalised) theatrical experience and an immersive environment. The original London theatre was redesigned to facilitate increased audience participation—its conventional proscenium replaced with a quasi-in-the-round and centrally-revolving stage and part of its roof opened to the sky and, by implication, beyond to ‘the Heaviside layer’. The latter term refers to the layer of ionised gas occurring 90 to 150 km above the ground, with the lyrical use of the phrase in Cats suggesting heaven. Beyond London, specifically designed theatres with ‘catwalks’ extending from stage to balcony sprang up across the globe. With its revolving stage and aperture, Cats’s earth-sky theatre design mirrors the plot that Lloyd Webber derived from both his source text—T. S Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939)—and references to the Heaviside Layer that he had found among Eliot’s unpublished papers. Eliot had removed from the 1939 published collection an alternative ending wherein the Book’s poet ascends with cats ‘Up up up past the Russell Hotel, / Up up up to the Heaviside Layer’. Reintroducing the deleted Heaviside layer, Lloyd Webber narratively repurposed it as the longed-for destination of the musical’s Jellicle cats, who dream of both ascension and rebirth.

In the context of the significance of the Heaviside layer to both Eliot’s Book and the stage adaptation, this paper focuses on the first cinematic adaptation of Cats (2019), exploring the ways in which the inclusion of the Heaviside layer affords both an atmospheric theme and a theatrical-design element to its screen melodrama of lyrical, theatrical and earth-bound promises and limits. I conclude the paper by considering the widespread, popular-critical panning of the 2019 film, asking whether present-day, seemingly limitless networked environments obstruct appreciation of Cats’s elucidation of ‘heaven’ and earth, birth and death.

Monique Rooney teaches US literature, film and new media in the English Program at ANU. She is the author of Living Screens: Melodrama and Plasticity in Contemporary Film and Television (2015) and, with Gillian Russell and Stefan Solomon, she is editing a collected volume on the topic of ‘elemental melodrama.’ A longer version of ‘Elemental Limits: Cats (2019), Melodrama and the Heaviside Layer’ will be published in the edited collection.

Zach Karpinellison is a PhD candidate in both the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics (SLLL) and the Interdisciplinary Cross-Cultural Research (ICCR) program. For his PhD dissertation, Zach is researching the Australian film ‘version’.

Kate Warren, Visual Arts and Australian Popular Media

Join us for the next CuSPP Seminar (taking place via zoom)

Thursday 25 November, 4.30 – 6pm (see CuSPP email or contact monique.rooney@anu.edu.au for zoom link).

Visual Culture and Australian Popular Media

This presentation explores histories of how the visual arts and art history have been covered in the Australian popular media. Focusing on popular magazines of the mid-twentieth century (such as Pix, The Australian Women’s Weekly, Australasian Post) it analyses under-considered examples of how these magazines presented art history to broad Australian audiences, as well as how these magazines facilitated and revealed diverse audience engagement with the arts. Through these case studies the presentation will argue for the benefits of using intermedial methodologies of popular art historiography, in order to trace and analyse histories of cultural value and popular arts engagement in Australia.

Kate Warren is a Lecturer of Art History and Curatorship at the Australian National University. Her research expertise is in modern and contemporary Australian and international art, with a focus on film, photography, video and media art. She has previously worked as a curator, arts writer and editor, including as Assistant Curator at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image from 2007 to 2011.

Alice Grundy is researching a PhD on Australian editing and publishing history. She has been an editor in trade publishing for more than a dozen years and has taught professional editing at UTS.

Ros Smith on Early Modern Women and the Poetry of Complaint

Join us for the next CuSPP Seminar (taking place via zoom)

Thursday 26 August, 4.30 – 6pm (see CuSPP email or contact monique.rooney@anu.edu.au for zoom link).

Early modern women and the poetry of complaint: an introduction

This paper considers how early modern women poets engaged with the mode of complaint, exploring the findings from a three-year collaborative project that has uncovered over 500 complaint poems by early modern women writers, translators, compilers and transcribers. Discussion will consider how women’s poetic complaints might be read across multiple textual, material, and performance contexts; how these poems make us reassess questions of form, agency and gender in the period; and what this research tells us about the mode of complaint more broadly.

Rosalind Smith is the newly appointed Chair of English at the Australian National University. She specialises in early modern women’s writing, particularly the intersection of gender, politics, history and form, and her books include Sonnets and the English Woman Writer, 1560-1621: The Politics of Absence (2005), Material Cultures of Early Modern Women’s Writing (with Trisha Pender) and Early Modern Women’s Complaint: Gender, Form and Politics (with Sarah Ross). Her current projects include an Australian Research Council future fellowship on Marginalia and the Early Modern Woman Writer, a Linkage grant with State Library Victoria on the recent Emmerson bequest of over 5000 early modern books and manuscripts, and her role as general editor of the Palgrave Encyclopedia of Early Modern Women’s Writing, with over 500 entries totalling 1.5 million words.

Katherine Bode on ‘How (Computational) Literary Studies Matters’

Join us for this week’s CuSPP Seminar (taking place via zoom)

Thursday 29 July, 4.30 – 6pm (see CuSPP email or contact monique.rooney@anu.edu.au for zoom link).

How (computational) literary studies matters 

Are computational engagements with literature the same as, or different from, established ones? For many in both the mainstream discipline and its emerging computational component, the answer to this question seems obvious: computational literary studies (CLS) is clearly distinct from established forms of the discipline, even if the conclusions from this point can differ considerably. Polemically, CLS replaces (or threatens to replace) literary studies; strategically, it supplements or complements (or has the potential to supplement or complement) established practices; alternatively, it has nothing to do with the existing discipline, whether that means it should be excluded from literary studies and left to wither and die, or – a view increasingly common amongst CLS scholars – that it should escape disciplinary confines in order to flourish. 

In this work-in-progress presentation I propose, in contrast to this oppositional perspective, that established and computational approaches create literary knowledge in fundamentally the same way, even as they have – both internally and comparatively – many significant and important differences. I make this argument by demonstrating the relevance, initially for established enactments of literary studies, and then for dominant enactments of CLS, of a central tenet of science and technology studies (STS): that knowledge practices are inseparable from the subjects and objects that supposedly employ and are subject to them. Based on this entanglement of epistemology and ontology, I suggest that the discipline be defined in normative terms rather than with respect to institutional or medial distinctions. 

Katherine Bode is Professor of Literary and Textual Studies and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics at the Australian National University. Her most recent book is A World of Fiction: Digital Collections and the Future of Literary History (2018).

Image credit: On Kawara, from the artist’s collection One Million Years, 1999.

Kate Mitchell, The [Other] Art of Fiction: Portraits in Neo-Victorian Literature

Join us for this week’s CuSPP Seminar (taking place in-person)

Thursday 24 June, 4.30 – 6pm, AD Hope Conference Room, First Floor, AD Hope Bldg

The painted portrait features in a number of Victorian novels, often invested with the power to divulge a hidden truth about its subject. Portraits also recur in neo-Victorian fiction, though here they may conceal as much as they reveal: in A.S. Byatt’s Possession, which romanticises the written text, the portrait of Christabel LaMotte can only reveal her close relationship to Maud once this information has already come to light through other, textual means. Whereas Byatt’s text describes ‘fictional’ portraits, a number of other neo-Victorian novels construct their narratives around actual pieces of art, imagining the lives of the painters, those of their subjects, or both.

This paper investigates the practice of ekphrastically incorporating historical works of art into neo-Victorian literature, focusing on Deborah Davis’s evocation of John Singer Sargent’s (in)famous portrait Madame X in her literary nonfiction Strapless (2003). When it appeared at the Paris Salon of 1884, the portrait of a Parisian socialite, Virginie Gautreau, showed one strap of her dress falling from her shoulder, causing a scandal that ruined Gautreau’s reputation. Sargent later painted the strap back on, and this is how the portrait appears today. I examine Davis’s imaginative recovery of the earlier image, and what it suggests to us about the power of art to reconstruct the past. How is art conceptualised as historical trace? Strapless makes the image of a woman offered for public consumption, and the story of how this consumes her life, speak to twenty-first century celebrity culture and its prurient fascination with publicly circulated images and the private lives behind them. Since it also exploits and extrapolates upon the portrait of Madame X and the associated scandal, it also speaks to contemporary fascination with, and uses of, Victorian celebrity in fiction today.

Image: fragment of Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), John Singer Sargent, 1884. Source: wikimedia

Kate Mitchell is an Associate Professor in Literary Studies at the Australian National University. Her research is focused on neo-Victorian fiction and the neo-historical novel, and on nineteenth- and twentieth-century literary and cultural history. She is author of History and Cultural Memory in Neo-Victorian Fiction: Victorian Afterimages (Palgrave Macmillan,) and, with Dr Nicola Parsons (University of Sydney), co-editor of Reading Historical Fiction: The Revenant and Remembered Past (Palgrave Macmillan). Her articles on historical fiction have appeared in Neo-Victorian Studies, Victoriographies and a number of edited collections and journals. She serves on the Arts and Humanities Editorial Board of ANU EPress.

What Happens to Women’s Voices During a Pandemic?

Join us for this week’s CuSPP Seminar (taking place via zoom)

Thursday 27 May, 4.30 – 6pm (see CuSPP email or contact monique.rooney@anu.edu.au for zoom link).

‘What Happens to Women’s Voices During a Pandemic? Studying the Impact of COVID-19 on Women Writers in Australia’

Presented by Rebecca Clode, Alice Grundy, Melinda Harvey and Julieanne Lamond

This paper presents the preliminary results from our ANU Gender Institute-funded research into the effects of COVID-19 on the ability of women writers in Australia to have their work published and read. In a context in which feminist literary activism has made measurable improvements to the attention women writers receive in Australia, we ask: what happens to these gains when a global pandemic hits? We know the social effects of COVID-19 are disproportionately impacting women in terms of employment, the home and education. Some are calling its economic effects a ‘pink recession’. What about the literary sphere? With feminist non-profit organisation The Stella Prize, we are collecting data to quantify the gendered impact of the pandemic across three interrelated groups of writers: creative writers (including playwrights); cultural critics/journalists, and literary studies academics. In this paper, we present the results of our data collection and interviews for 2019 to 2020, and pose questions about how to ensure that the literary culture that emerges from the pandemic is one in which women’s voices are heard and valued. 

Rebecca Clode is an experienced theatre director and dramaturg and is the Ethel Tory Lecturer in Drama at Australian National University.

Alice Grundy is a book editor and PhD candidate at Australian National University. Her thesis looks at editorial intervention in the work of contemporary Australian women writers.

Melinda Harvey has published widely as a book critic for over a decade and is a judge of the Miles Franklin Literary Award. She is Lecturer in Literary Studies at Monash University.

Julieanne Lamond is a Senior Lecturer in Literary Studies at Australian National University. She is a judge of the Patrick White Award and editor of the journal Australian Literary Studies.