Writers and Their World Seminar Series

The Writers and Their World Seminar Series is run by the HDR Program in Creative Writing, as part of the Literary and Cultural Studies Graduate Research Program. Audio and video of the papers presented in this series may be downloaded below.

The New Universal

Chris Kraus
Monday 30th June, 2014

Portrait of Chris Kraus by John Kelsey
Portrait of Chris Kraus by John Kelsey

In the past decade, because of the speed and the reach of self-published work online and other cultural shifts, concern with indicators of inclusion like the VIDA count have become increasingly irrelevant. Inclusion in what? As mainstream media tabloids its cultural content, ‘prestige’ publications have lost their shine. Meanwhile, the assertion of female writing has reached a critical mass. This keynote paper will focus upon independent publishing ventures including Emily Books, Semiotexte, n+1, The New Inquiry, The Believer, The Millions and Sarah Nicole Prickett’s Adult magazine that are asserting a new universal that is more gender-fluid; as female as it is male.

Bio: Chris Kraus is a cutting-edge LA-based writer of fiction and art criticism. Chris’ books include I Love Dick, Aliens & Anorexia, Torpor, Summer of Hate and Where Art Belongs. She was awarded the Frank Jewett Mather Award for Art Criticism from the College Art Association in 2008, a Warhol Arts Writing Grant 2011, and writes regularly for Artforum, n+1 and other magazines. Chris founded the Native Agents imprint and is a Co-Editor of Semiotexte with Hedi El Kholti and Sylvere Lotringer. Chris is a Visiting Scholar in the School of Languages, Literatures, Culture and Linguistics. Download the audio of this paper in MP3 format

The Production and Productivity of Humanitarian Fiction: Shame and Timothy Bewes

David Callahan
Monday 26th May, 2014

Fictions that deal with humanitarian crises and efforts to alleviate them are commonly acknowledged to present problems: why fictionalise real people’s suffering? Is the aestheticisation of suffering an instrumental use of the pain of others in the service of an author’s career or credentials? Aware of such critiques, writers in this area often self-consciously make the failure of their effort an integral part of their work. Timothy Bewes has recently theorised that postcolonial writing incorporates a failure of form which he terms ‘shame’, a formal gap between the writing of postcolonial critique and the inability to transcend and master the history of colonialism. This seminar speculates that Bewes’s shame could potentially also be applied to texts dealing with humanitarian crises. While the material discussed will mostly be of a general theoretical nature, some exemplification will be attempted via Zimbabwean Mashingaidze Gomo’s verse novel A Fine Madness, Canadian Maggie Helwig’s novel Beyond Mountains, and the Australian-Canadian television mini-series Answered by Fire, set in East Timor.

Dr David Callahan is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, and recent Chair of the European Association for Studies on Australia. His book Rainforest Narratives: The Work of Janette Turner Hospital (2009) was the co-winner in 2011 of Australia’s McRae Russell Award for the best book of literary scholarship on an Australian subject published in the preceding two calendar years. He has also edited Australia: Who Cares? (2007) and Contemporary Issues in Australian Literature (2002), and is the Editor of the Journal of the European Association for Studies of Australia. His articles on Australian issues have appeared in journals such as Interventions, Postcolonial Studies, Critique, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, Australian Literary Studies, Antipodes, Westerly and Australian Studies. His most recent article in the area of Australian studies was “Re-visiting East Timor as Fiction and as Memoir: The Work of Tony Maniaty” in Literature & History. As well as on Australian studies, he has published many book chapters and articles on post-colonial topics including the writing of Abdulrazak Gurnah, Sindiwe Magona, Jane Urquhart, Maggie Helwig, Bharati Mukherjee, Native American writer Gordon Henry Jr, New Zealand Film, and South African Film. His next article to appear will be on Australian generic fictions using East Timor as an attempt to underwrite positive roles for Australians in East Timor as implicit compensation for the dirty history of official Australian interference in the efforts of the East Timorese people to gain independence, justice and recognition over more than a quarter of a century. Download the audio of this paper in MP3 format

Everyday Life in Utopia: Work

Lyman Tower Sargent
Monday 5th May, 2014

Work is essential to the continued existence of any society or, for that matter, any human life, but it is often unpleasant, dangerous, or tedious, with workers treated poorly. It is hardly surprising, then, that the role of work in daily life is central for the authors of utopias. In general the questions utopias ask are: how can work be made pleasant, safe, satisfying, and interesting? how should workers be treated? to what extent should workers be able to choose their work or vary it from time to time? In this paper I will examine two utopias, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward 2000-1887 and William Morris’s News from Nowhere, in both of which work is central, but nonetheless handled completely differently. In addition, I will look briefly at categories of people who posed special problems for utopian authors, especially children, women, farm workers and the disabled.

Lyman Tower Sargent is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, one of the world’s foremost scholars in utopian studies and founding editor of the journal Utopian Studies. His many publications include New Left Thought (1972), British and American Utopian Literature 1516-1985 (1988), Living in Utopia: Intentional Communities in New Zealand (2004), Contemporary Political Ideologies (14th edition, 2008) and Utopianism: A Very Short Introduction (2010). Download the audio of this paper in MP3 format

The Writer as Detective

Angela Savage
Monday 31st March, 2014

My fiction is inspired by the years I spent living and working in Southeast Asia. I didn’t set out to write crime fiction, but the genre proved ideal for the themes I wanted to explore in my writing. Cultural misunderstandings are a rich vein for dramatic tension as well as humour, and working cross-culturally is a lot like being a detective. Both the cross-cultural worker and the detective are always trying to figure out the big picture from a small set of clues, to distinguish a reliable source from one trying to take advantage, and to search for meanings lost in translation. The challenges are similar for the researcher/writer. In this presentation, I will discuss the ideas and experiences that have inspired my writing. I will describe how I use imagination, empathy and research to create convincing characters across a range of cultures, and touch on why I believe ‘write what you know’ is poor advice for aspiring writers.

Portrait of Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne-based crime writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She won the 2011 Scarlett Stiletto Award with her short story, ‘The Teardrop Tattoos’, and has twice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards. Her most recent novel, The Dying Beach, was released in July 2013. In the 1990s, Angela worked on HIV/AIDS programs for the Australian Red Cross throughout Southeast Asia, based in Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. In 2008, she returned to the region with her family, spending a twelve-month sabbatical in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

For the past 15 years, Angela has combined her writing career with work in the community sector, most recently heading up a peak body for community development and adult education organisations in Victoria.
She has a Combined Honours degree in History and Philosophy of Science and Criminology from the University of Melbourne, and in 2014 commenced a PhD in Creative Writing at Monash.

Download the audio of this paper in MP3 format

Possible (Dramatic) Worlds: Zombies, Cannibals and Whalers

David Mence
Monday 14th April, 2014

Recent works by Margaret Atwood and Cormac McCarthy suggest that the borders between pulp—science fiction, fantasy and horror—and literary fiction are more permeable than we think. In writing for the stage, I have often drawn on genres that I love, from novels, films, historical works, whatever takes my fancy. As Michael Chabon put it in his wonderful book, Maps and Legends (2008), ‘I read for entertainment, and I write to entertain’ (14). In this talk, I will discuss three plays written between 2004 and 2014 and their generic contexts. In Macbeth Re-Arisen, I blended Shakespeare’s medieval Scotland with the maniacal zombies of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series. In The Gully, I took the ominous syntax of Harold Pinter and inserted it into the post-apocalyptic landscapes of Mad Max and The Road. And in Convincing Ground, I found a way to channel my love of Moby-Dick by dramatising a story I discovered while researching the history of sealing and whaling in Western Victoria. I often think of writing as a process of appropriation and recombination—as opposed to an act of pure creativity—through which we find ways to speak back to those we most admire or revile. After all, as Cormac McCarthy once said, ‘Books are made out of books’, and so are plays.

David Mence is a writer, director and dramaturge. As artistic director of White Whale Theatre his credits include Macbeth Re-Arisen, Convict 002, The Gully, Aeroplane Jelly, Melburnalia, Melburnalia No. 2, Othello (Bell Shakespeare) and Blackbird (MTC). He has been a creative fellow at the State Library of Victoria, a writer in residence at the Edward F. Albee Foundation in New York, and has had stories published in Meanjin, Sleepers Almanac and Best Australian Stories 2010. David is currently completing a PhD at the University of Melbourne on Herman Melville as well as a collection of stories about the early sealers and whalers who settled Victoria’s rugged western coast. Download the audio of this paper in MP3 format

London and the Making of Modern Science Fiction

Professor Andrew Milner
Monday 7th April, 2014

Portrait of Andrew Milner

We are inclined to think of science fiction (SF) as an American invention and the term was indeed first coined in the United States during the 1930s. But much of what it denotes clearly harkens back to an earlier European heritage – witness the plethora of Hollywood film adaptations of novels by Mary Shelley, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. The term used to market both Wells’s novels and English of Verne in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was ‘scientific romance’. Whilst this has now clearly been supplanted by SF, it’s not clear that the change in usage carried with it any significant changes in meaning. SF stories need not necessarily be set in the future, but nonetheless most are. And, even when set in the present or the past, they tend to be future-oriented. Raymond Williams once famously observed that: `Out of an experience of the cities came an experience of the future’, placing particular emphasis on Paris and London, but especially the latter. Why London? Because it was the first city on Earth to reach a population of 2 million and, from the 1820s until the First World War, the largest city on the planet. It was also home to one of the two largest publishing industries in the world, the other being Paris. This paper will explore the specific contribution of the largest city in modern Europe to the making of modern SF.

Andrew Milner is Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at Monash University. His publications include John Milton and the English Revolution (1981), Cultural Materialism (1993), Class (1999), Re-Imagining Cultural Studies (2002), Contemporary Cultural Theory (3rd edition, 2002), Literature, Culture and Society (2nd edition, 2005), Tenses of Imagination: Raymond Williams on Utopia, Dystopia and Science Fiction (2010) and Locating Science Fiction (2012).

Download the audio of this paper in MP3 format

Life in the Second Language

John Mateer
Monday 24th March, 2014

As I write these words, the sentence “I do not speak my own language” is in my head like the line of an ascending aeroplane piercing through cloud. – Dark Horse, for JM Coetzee

It is usual for the poet to be thought of as a voice of the mother tongue, the poet’s first language. Over the past two decades all so, it has become more common to be cautious about presuming a relation between the writers’ work and their first language. But what of writers who feel they are in a second language, even if it is their own – having English as a mother-tongue but feeling it is foreign? Or, worse, what if they feel no language can be their first-language? Book cover: Southern Barbarians and Unbelievers, or ‘The Moor’ Taking his own work as example, poet John Mateer presents an argument about the origins and strategies of his last four books – Ex-White: South African Poems, The West: Australian Poems 1989-2009, Southern Barbarians and Unbelievers, or ‘The Moor’ – and will read and reflect on his relationship between history, poesis, translation and self-hood. He will discuss the circumstances of Afrikaans as national language in South Africa, the problem caused by Aboriginal language or its absense for a grounded poetics in Australia, and the possibilities presented by reconsidering the cultural formations of East and West through imagining the colonial effects of Portugal and Spain in this part of the world.

Over the past twenty years John Mateer has presented lectures and readings at many universities, from North Sumatra and Sydney to Barcelona and Vienna, and at festivals in Asia, South Africa and Europe. In London, in 2010 he read his work at PEN’s Free the Word festival and in 2013 at the AfroEuropeans confence. He has published nine books of poems in Australia, booklets in many countries and two collections in the UK, as well as the prose travelogue Semar’s Cave: an Indonesian Journal. His latest book is Emptiness: Asian Poems 1998-2012, which collects poems written in South-East and North Asia. He also writes on and curates contemporary art. Download the audio of this paper in MP3 format

Literature in the Age of Tourism

Professor Dr. Barbara Schmidt-Haberkamp
Monday 17th March 2014

Barbara Schmidt-Haberkamp Tourism, a cultural practice familiar to all of us, grounds on the construction of difference; even more so, it is based on the marketable myths of authenticity and exoticism – which the practice of tourism again debunks: the local or the foreign are manipulated in order to meet the demands of an international consumer public. The texts chosen for this paper all focus on tourism and address precisely the questions of reality and representation, of concepts of self and the other. They do not belong to travel writing; on the contrary, they question the claim to referentiality and documentation which is integral to travel writing. Instead, they share a marked skepticism about the possibility of experiencing otherness at all, at the same time that they question the stability of cultural origins. With that they raise questions about the nature or even possibility of cross-cultural experience. “Travel broadens the mind”, is a well-known saying. The texts I will discuss claim that it doesn’t.

Barbara Schmidt-Haberkamp is Professor of Anglophone Literatures and Cultures at the University of Bonn, Germany. Her main research interests are postcolonial studies and eighteenth-century British literature and culture in a comparative, European perspective. She is the author of Die verordnete Kultur: Stereotypien der australischen Literaturkritik (1990) – a study of the history of literary criticism in Australia – and Die Kunst der Kritik: zum Zusammenhang von Ethik und Ästhetik bei Shaftesbury (2000). She has edited/co-edited essay collections on cultural transfer in eighteenth-century Europe, on Europe and Turkey in the Eighteenth Century (2011) and most recently on Drink in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Pickering & Chatto 2014) as well as an anthology of Contemporary Indian Short Stories (2006). She has published articles on various aspects of eighteenth-century culture and on postcolonial theory and literatures, among them some 15 articles on Australian literature and culture. She serves on the board of the German Association for Australian Studies (GASt) and was a founding member of the European Association for Australian Studies (EASA). Download the audio of this paper in MP3 format

Creativity in Science and Creative Writing

Professor Ed Byrne, AO
Monday 10th March, 2014



The nature of creativity in science and in the creative arts has been much discussed. Many scientists and prominent doctors are adept musicians. Some of the great writers in English have a medical background. Keats was a medical students at Guys hospital, Somerset Maughan famously gained many of his insights as a medical student in London. The creative impulse which leads to great science has many parallels with that which underpins creative writing. In this talk I will draw out the parallels between creation in science and literature and talk about my personal experience in both worlds.

Professor Ed Byrne became Vice Chancellor and President of Monash University on 6 July 2009. He began his career in Adelaide after graduating with first class honours from the University of Tasmania in 1974. He was made Neurology Registrar at Royal Adelaide Hospital in 1978. In 1983, he was appointed Director of Neurology at St Vincent’s Hospital and Professor Clinical Neurology at the University of Melbourne in 1992.

Professor Byrne was a founding director of the Melbourne Neuromuscular Research Institute and the Centre for Neuroscience in 1993. He was also made Professor of Experimental Neurology at the University of Melbourne in 2001. He first came to Monash University as the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, a role he held from 2003 until 2007. Professor Byrne was then appointed the Vice Provost (Health) at University College London (UCL). He held that position until becoming the eighth Vice Chancellor at Monash University.

The University of Melbourne awarded him a Doctor of Science, a higher degree conferred in recognition of a demonstrated record of research excellence. He completed a Masters of Business Administration in 2005. Professor Byrne was admitted as an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2006 and a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2014. Download the audio of this paper in MP3 format