Driving to work I listened a radio program about the decline in Australian literature.
Apparently one of Australia's major universities that had been experiencing a dramatic decline in both the absolute number and proportion of English students studying Australian literature tried to introduce an honours course in the area. This failed because it did not attract a single student.
An academic complained that the only thing keeping Australian literature alive as an area of study was the interest in certain overseas universities. The solution offered was to increase Australian content in the higher school courses.
Whys should we be surprised that all this had happened?
There are general systemic factors at work that have affected all classes of literature. But here we are talking about a decline within a decline. So other things have to be at work.
Crudely, in rejecting the validity of the Australian past in the way so many have done, we have cut the underpinnings out from our literary tradition. Why should anyone study the literature coming from a narrow, provincial, racist past? What relevance does it have for modern multicultural Australia today?
This is a tragedy. I love Australian studies. I love the texture of Australian life over the years.
I understand the injustices that we have done to, for example, our indigenous people. Obviously we need to understand this. But I want to capture the indigenous experience too, focused on them as people, not as victims forever buried in an European paradigm of past black white relations. What do they have to teach me as an Australian living in 2007?
In all the decline in Australian literature there appears to be one growth area, and that is young peoples' literature.
I have read a fair bit of this, in part because of my daughters, in part because I have enjoyed it. This does deal with contemporary issues. But it also writes to the Australian experience. Long may it continue.
Neil (Ninglun) provided a thoughtful comment on this post and also put up a post about the issues on his blog. This includes a link to his own OzLit writings as well as to Matilda and Wilson's Blogmanac, both worthwhile sites.
One of the difficulties in this time poor world is to find the time to trace through the material to test my own assessments. I will try to do so. In the meantime, a challenge to all.
To help educate me, what do you think the main trends and patterns have been in Australian writing over the last twenty years? How does this relate to other trends in Australian society and culture? What does it tell us about ourselves?