Monday, June 19, 2006

state of writing

nteresting reading on the state of writing in the weekend papers.

McCrum in the Weekend Australian thinks things are looking as rosy as they're ever likely to be:
"Literary life has become global, democratic and uninhibited. Bookshops are better equipped and the books they sell are better printed , designed and marketed than ever. There's a huge audience and apparently no shortage of money. It's an almost perfect environment for the new writer of talent."

But playwriting is described in the same section of the same newspaper as being in a in a parlous state. In 1991 three were 129 subsidized theatre companies in Australia now there are 67. "We are spending practically nothing on trying to generate Australian playwriting." - David Williamson. "What we're looking at in the long run is a return to the pre-70s of a largely amateur theatre culture." - Hilary Bell. There are only 6 premieres of new Australian plays by the five flagship theatre companies in 06.

And again in the Weekend Australian Ian McFarlane damns Australian publishing for failing to publish his collection of stories, essays and poems on depression. "When you factor in the public profile and audience demands on authorship, you begin to reach some idea of the insidious way that writing of promise is being pushed into the background and possible oblivion, by shallower and shinier work." While I like the ring of the final words, I think there are other explanations. Firstly I don't think people want to read collections of stories, essays and poems. Was there a golden age in the past when they did? McFarlane goes on to add: "The economic imperative driving books and writing today is seriously eroding the social relevance of literature. I didn't realize literature had to be socially relevant - just good.

According to Raymond Gill in The Age's A2, globalisation is hard at work and "the commercial networks … produce only the bare, pathetic, government decreed minimum for local drama" and "an avalanche of foreign culture suffocates our stage and screens." But he adds we may now start exporting American culture in the form of stage productions "Dirty Dancing" and "Dusty" back into the States.

And on Monday Nathan Hollier went in to the defence of the requirement for the winner of the Miles Franklin to somehow represent Australia. He quotes Jane Sullivan's comment: "times have changed in a good way for our books" and Australian literature is no longer "an endangered species" and disagrees with her that the award should be open to an Australian writing on any topic. Nathan feels that the readership of the literary novel within Australia is in decline and Australian literary studies within universities are in dire straits. "Major publishers are increasingly reluctant to invest to any significant degree in new literary talent, and more particularly in new local literary talent. Economically it makes much more sense for the half-dozen corporations who publish most of the world's books to focus their attention on obtaining and promoting the work of "star" writers whose work can be sold to as large an audience as possible (and, crucially, within the US). It is these major publishing firms which are most energetically promoting the global reading market, at the expense of local markets, readerships and literary cultures. Within this context if the "local" is to be represented at all, it will tend to be in the "exotic, "picturesque" terms that confirm the prejudices of the cultural centre, the metropole.

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