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CCLCS Seminar Series

2009 Seminars

Download recordings of papers from the links below. For more recordings, see our podcasting page.

March 3

Changing the Climate: The Politics of Dystopia

Andrew Milner

This paper aims to test the adequacy of various theoretical approaches to utopian studies and science fiction studies – especially those drawn from the work of Darko Suvin, Raymond Williams and Fredric Jameson – to an understandinng of the history of Australian science-fictional dystopias. It argues that science fiction cannot readily be assimilated into either high literature (as utopia) or popular fiction (as genre) and rejects the widespread prejudice against both science fiction and dystopia in much contemporary academic literary and cultural criticism. It concludes that science fiction, whether utopian or dystopian, is as good a place as any for thought experiments about the politics of climate change, a case made with special reference to the late George Turner’s 1987 novel The Sea and Summer.

Andrew Milner is Professor and Deputy Director of the Centre for Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies. His recent publications include Re-Imagining Cultural Studies (2002), Contemporary Cultural Theory (2002) and Literature, Culture and Society (2005). His Tenses of Imagination is currently in press with Peter Lang.

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April 8

‘Come Forth Into The Light Of Things’: Material Spirit And Negative Ecopoetics

Kate Rigby

In a poem from 1937 addressed to future generations, Bertold Brecht famously declared that to engage in a conversation about trees was almost
a crime since it meant keeping silent about the grievous socio-political ills of the day (above all, the rise of fascism). In this paper, I
argue that in our own ‘dark times’ of deepening ecosocial woes, not to talk about trees would be the greater crime. The central question that
I want to address here is how literature, and in particular lyric poetry, might contribute to this pressing conversation. Recalling Adorno’s
comments on poetry after Auschwitz, I propose that in the era of accelerating ecocide, to write about trees (and other non-human others)
poetically is both utterly necessary and profoundly problematic. As I have argued elsewhere, the kind of ecopoetics that is called for in this
context necessarily has a ‘negative’ dimension. Focussing my discussion around William Wordsworth’s strange summons in “The Tables Turned” to
“come forth into the light of things”, this paper elaborates the theory of negative ecopoetics as a literary practice that is radically
subversive of those dualistic habits of thought which, in severing spirit from matter, mind from body, and man from nature, have both
informed, and been informed by, historical patterns of relationship among humans and other others that can now be seen as intrinsically
unethical and ultimately ecocidal.

Kate Rigby is Associate Professor in Comparative Literature. Her publications include Out of the Shadows: Contemporary German Feminist Theory
(1996), Transgressions of the Feminine (1996) and Topographies of the Sacred: The Poetics of Place in European Romanticism (2004).

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April 22

Certitude and Linguistic Play in Chinese Critical Inquiry

Gloria Davies

This paper deals with the language of Chinese intellectual discourse and explores its dynamism as a discourse that is radically cosmopolitan
while retaining an ancient and destiny-inspired rhetoric cum rationale. In this paper, I argue in favor of translating the Chinese term for
intellectual discourse (sixiang) as “critical inquiry”, as opposed to the conventional idea of “modern Chinese thought”. The latter tends to
suggest a discourse of settled ideas that is quite at odds with the agonistic nature of Chinese intellectual discourse. By understanding
sixiang as critical inquiry, we are more effectively reminded that this discourse bears the legacy of its earlier incarnations in China’s
war-torn and violent twentieth century. As critical inquiry, sixiang is shaped and burdened by the instrumentalization of language as a
nation-building tool and a revolutionary weapon. Focusing on the work of China’s best known modern writer and critic, Lu Xun, the paper
examines how an enduring anticipation of collective betterment (or national perfection) predisposes the discourse of sixiang towards
certitude. In this regard, it will also consider the ways in which sixiang is enriched by linguistic play that acknowledges the contingency of
beliefs and values on the words used in their articulation.

Gloria Davies is Associate Professor in Chinese. Her publications include Voicing Concerns (2001), Globalization in the Asian Region (2004),
Worrying About China: The Language of Chinese Critical Inquiry (2007) and Profiles in Courage (2008).

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May 13

Future Narrative: Interactivity, Computer Games and the Authorship of Fantasy

Chris Worth

The success and proliferation of computer games has stimulated considerable interest among narratologists because some games appear to offer
player-centred direction of stories, significant narrative interactivity and multiple alternative resolutions. Fantasy RPG games in particular
promise opportunities for the construction of personalised narratives by players individually and in relation to other players. How ‘readerly’
are these? What happens to the sense of an ending? Does the interactivity mediated by computer games constitute a paradigm shift in modes of
narration comparable, say, to that mediated by the development of film technologies? And will the widely distributed enablement of certain
kinds of facile fantasy narrative creation alter our understanding of the significance of represented fantasy?

Chris Worth is Director of the Centre for Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies. His publications include Postmodern Conditions (1990),
Discourse and Difference (1990) and Literature and Opposition (1994).

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May 27

Something’s Missing: John Banville’s Wary Aestheticism

Matthew Ryan

References to art and artists recur in John Banville’s writing. In structure too his novels are metafictional in that they draw attention to their own artistic texture. While Banville’s self-conscious aestheticisation of the world in the novel points to the captured evocative moment, it also plays out the failure of the ideal; its deception, its alienation from material being. In this paper I look into this wary aestheticism as it appears in The Sea. Further, I investigate it in terms that Ernst Bloch proposed for the utopian insight of literature, the “anticipatory illumination”. In The Sea we can glimpse both the liberation offered in the aesthetic and the slip towards an “ethereal and empty realm of freedom”, identified as art’s dangerous obverse. The Sea, like Banville’s other works, can be read as a cultural response to a process of social transformation – the abstraction of the social in the generalisation of the intellectual form of life – which contains its own utopian promise but which also entails particular diminutions of social being.

Matthew Ryan lectures in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies. His publications include Imagining the Future (2006) and Demanding the Impossible (2008). He is an editor of Arena Magazine.

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July 22

Four or Five Words in Derrida

Kevin Hart

The paper responds to Derrida’s Avouer – L’Impossible, one of Derrida’s last texts, and seeks to understand several crucial words in him (including ‘life’ and ‘faith’). A critique is offered of Derrida’s theory of ethics.

Professor Hart is Edwin B. Kyle Professor of Christian Studies at the University of Virginia and a former Director of the Centre for Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies. His many publications include: The Trespass of the Sign: Deconstruction, Theology and Philosophy (1988), Samuel Johnson and the Culture of Property (1999), The Dark Gaze: Maurice Blanchot and the Sacred (2004), Derrida and Religion (2004) and Counter-Experiences: Reading Jean-Luc Marion (2007).

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August 5

The Return Journey—Rasa and the Aesthetics of Desire in Michael Ondaatje’s Poetry and Fiction

Chandani Lokuge

South Asian diasporic literature in English projects a rich vein of desire for spiritual restfulness in the globalised world. This paper
focuses on the desire for a physical/imaginative homeland, for complete and spiritual restfulness as both the key subject for texts and as an
internal dynamic creating textual power. It attempts to extend current postcolonial contextual and political analysis through attention to
textual forms, strategies and values. Distinguishing itself from western reader reception theories which can mask this literature’s
distinctiveness, the Theory of Rasa, the classical Indian theory of aesthetics is used to offer a more holistic, incisive and empathetic
analysis, re-informing political and cultural content. The development of a new research project, this paper will read selected fiction and
poetry by Michael Ondaatje, alongside the Theory of Rasa.

Chandani Lokuge is Director of the Centre for Postcolonial Writing at Monash. Her publications include two novels, If the Moon Smiled (2000)
and Turtle Nest (2003), and a collection of short stories, Moth and Other Stories (1992). She is also editor of the Oxford University Press
Classics Reissues series of Indian women’s autobiography and fiction.

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August 19

On the Limits of Virtue and Duty—Kant and the Question of Friendship

Blair McDonald

This paper traces the points of overlap and separation whereby through the paradigm of friendship the morals and politics of Kant’s discourse can be reconsidered for its points of tension, undecidability and contradictory demands. Friendship is not discussed as an explicitly political concept in Kant or a form of relations that could be thought to found a politics. It is rather a topic that emerges by way of discussions on respect, intimacy, secrecy, public and private relations and analogically, through his discussion of social physics. Consequently, the paper will show how the question of friendship finds a place in the threshold between morality and politics, and so question the compatibility of Kant’s theory of politics with his claims on morality. In doing so it will look at two well-known discussions of Kant’s discourse on friendship, namely, the second half of Doctrine of Virtue and his “Lecture on Friendship”.

Blair McDonald is a PhD student in the Centre for Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies, currently researching a thesis entitled Irreconciliations: Friendship and the Political.

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August 26

The Writer as Genealogist—The Realist Poetics of Dostoevsky and Flaubert

Millicent Vladiv-Glover

The French Realist manifesto of 1840, Les français peints par eux-mêmes, and its Russian copy of 1841 (Russians portrayed from nature by
Russians) call for the modern writer to portray the manners and mores of the times and act as a local historian. Dostoevsky and Flaubert take
up this call inflected through a more sophisticated model of history, subsequently theorized by Foucault (under impulses from Nietzsche) as
genealogy or as “effective history” which focuses on “emergence, the moment of arising.” Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet (1881) and
Dostoevsky’s The Adolescent (1875) will be analysed as ‘documents’ capturing a ‘moment in time’ staging themselves as ‘writing’ or as a
language game of domination and interpretation.

Millicent Vladiv-Glover is Associate Professor in Comparative Literature and Slavic Studies. Her publications include Narrative Principles in
Dostoevsky’s Devils: A Structural Analysis
, (1979), Lirska drama slovenskog modernizma (1997), Russian Postmodernism (1999) and Romani
Dostojesvkog kao Diskurs Transgresije i Pozude

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September 9

Compelling Fictions: Spinoza and George Eliot on Belief and Faith

Moira Gatens

This paper is presented in three parts: Firstly, it offers an exposition of Spinoza’s views on belief and faith, including the role of
imagination and fiction in religious life. Secondly, it considers how Eliot’s views on belief and faith and fiction develop aspects of
Spinoza’s view but also depart from that view. Thirdly, it raises the question of whether the philosophy of Spinoza can be expressed in
aesthetic terms.

Moira Gatens is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney. Her publications include Feminism and Philosophy (1992), Imaginary Bodies:
Ethics, Power and Corporeality
(1996), Collective Imaginings: Spinoza, Past and Present (1999) and Feminist Interpretations of Benedict

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September 16

From Flaubert to the Fantastique — Science Fiction and the Literary Field

Andrew Milner

Flaubert’s only historical novel, Salammbô, was published in 1862, a year before the first of Verne’s ‘Voyages Extraordinaire’, Cing semaines en ballon. For Jameson, this moment when the historical novel ceased to be ‘functional’ was the moment of the emergence of scince fiction. For Bourdieu, by contrast, the moment of Flaubert was that of the emergence of the modern ‘literary field’. This paper will analyse the place of science fiction in the genesis and structure of the modern literary field.

Andrew Milner is Professor and Deputy Director of the Centre. His publications include John Milton and the English Revolution (1981), Cultural Materialism (1993), Class (1999), Re-Imagining Cultural Studies (2002), Contemporary Cultural Theory (2002) and Literature, Culture and Society (2005). His Tenses of Imagination: Raymond Williams on Utopia, Dystopia and Science Fiction is in press with Peter Lang.

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September 23

Metaphorology: a Beginner’s Guide

Robert Savage

Robert Savage is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Centre. His publications include Imagining the Future: Utopia and Dystopia (2006), Moderne Begreifen: Zur Paradoxie eines sozioästhetischen Deutungsmusters (2007) and Hölderlin after the Catastrophe: Heidegger – Adorno – Brecht (2009).

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October 14

Literature and Globalization — Some Thoughts on Translation and the Transnational

David Roberts

The paper has a dual focus: a critique of the institutionalization of literary studies in departments of national literature and a re-evaluation of the role of translation in literary studies.

David Roberts is Emeritus Professor in German Studies and a former Director of the Centre. His many publications include Art and Enlightenment: Aesthetic Theory after Adorno (1990), Reconstructing Theory: Gadamer, Habermas, Luhmann (1995), Canetti’s Counter-Image of Society (2004), Dialectic of Romanticism: A Critique of Modernism (2004). He is a member of the editorial board of Thesis Eleven.

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Past and Present Conferences and Seminars

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