CWWA Keynote abstracts

Chris Kraus

In July, 1995 the American writer Kathy Acker met media theorist McKenzie Wark while on a reading tour of Australia.  The two spent a few giddy days and a night together in Sydney.  Acker was then 48, Wark was 34.  A 17-day email correspondence, by turns languid and frantic, titled i’m very into you, soon to be published in the US by Chiasmus Press, ensued.  Through close reading of this correspondence, together with Acker’s 1974 collaboration with Alan Sondheim on Blue Tape, Kraus examines the successes and failures of Acker’s project and its implications for writers and artists today.

Time: 6-7pm, Thursday 3 July


Lyn Hejinian

The Sneeze: Oversignification in the Zone of Encounter

Certain key characteristics of avant-garde art reflect the turbulent convergence of Romantic and Realist responses to the implacable, as well as transcendent, power of capital. They are, thus, fundamentally political in origin, but they are aesthetic in manner, producing a praxis of affect as well as (or more than) cognition. By moving back and forth between fragments from 19th century and 21st century activism, it is possible to establish a continuum, wherein activist signifying practices produce aesthetic intensifications of political meaning. This keynote paper begins with discussion of the poetry (“couplets”) improvised by an important but secondary figure in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. It proposes that the hypersignification at work in Gavroche’s ditties is a feature of tactical importance, also, in some hip hop lyrics and in some of the poetry connected to the Occupy movement. This hypersignification—or oversignification, as it is might be more aptly termed—is, in the context of capitalism, revolutionary. The second half of the paper examines signifying practices in an ongoing anti-epic poem by Occupy activist Sara Larsen, who uses oversignification to signal a rejection of the conditions wherein commodities and commodity production have any significance at all. The resulting ironies have affinities with those that inform certain African-American expressive practices, whereby stasis (and, by implication, the status quo) become conceptually impossible.

Time: 10.45-11.45am, Friday 4 July


Alexis Wright

The Swan Book

The Swan Book (2013) is a novel set in the future, about one hundred years from now.  It focuses on questions that I have asked myself, and which I believe are global questions on the mind of millions of people across the world. These questions are about the security of our common future. The Swan Book tells a story of the Indigenous spirit, the global state of human relationships with each other and our ability to govern a changing world, and the impact of changes in the environment. It is also a story about swans and how we have related to these creatures through the ages. In my deep concerns for the future, which I tried to address in this novel, I am always hopeful that the contents of the book might make a small contribution in important forums, debate and thinking about the possibilities of climate change and a changing world in this millennium.

This plenary will begin with a brief introduction by Associate Professor Alison Ravenscroft, who will then discuss The Swan Book with Alexis Wright. Associate Professor Ravenscroft will also lead the audience Q&A with Alexis Wright to follow the reading.

Time: 5.30-6.30pm, Friday 4 July



Kate Rigby

The Poetics of Decolonisation

This keynote paper begins by returning to the work of a woman writer who is, and is not, our contemporary: namely, the incredibly prescient Judith Wright, and, in particular to her famous poem, addressed to her friend Kath Walker (later Oodgeroo Nunuccal), “Two Dreamtimes.”  Here the speaker, “born of the conquerors” finds common ground with her Aboriginal interlocutor, not only in their shared, if culturally distinct, love for lands given over to destructive forms of exploitation in the interests of commercial gain on the part of a globalized minority, but also in their shared, if racially differentiated, marginality as women writers. Since the early 1970s, when this poem was penned, the position of women in the publishing world has dramatically improved, thanks to the achievements of second-wave feminism: in that sense, quite apart from the fact of her death in the first year of this calamitous new millennium, Wright is no longer our contemporary. As I will argue in this paper, however, some women’s voices are still being marginalized, even though, as in the case of Waanyi author Alexis Wright, their work might be awarded literary prizes. Among such marginalized voices are those of Indigenous women, but also non-Indigenous ecological feminists: and in that sense, Judith Wright’s writing has, if anything, grown in contemporary relevance. My primary concern in this presentation, however, is not with Judith so much as with Alexis Wright (no relative!), whose remarkable prize-winning novel Carpentaria I will be exploring within an anti-colonial ecological feminist frame.

Time: 10.45-11.45am, Saturday 5 July



Deborah Bird Rose

Recuperative Writing for the Anthropocene 

I think we all sense that the ways of writing that have awakened an environmental consciousness over the past 50 years or so have reached some sort of limit. I would call this the limit of the Anthropocene, but we might equally call it the limit of optimism. If this sense of limit has validity, then it suggests that however we address the big issues of our time, it is important that we not replicate the past. This is difficult in part because of modernity’s emphasis on not replicating the past, leading paradoxically to the proposition that not replicating the past actually replicates the past. In this keynote paper, I seek to recuperate some of the possibilities that may yet be underexplored. My recuperative project is based on the premise, articulated so elegantly by Hannah Arendt, that even in dark times there will be some illumination. Recuperative writing is not aimed toward dialectical opposition or overcoming; rather it trawls the past and the present, searching out forgotten or suppressed stories, opening itself to others, and finding itself drawn into places of unexpected wonder.

Time: 2.15-3.15pm, Saturday 5 July



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