‘ “No Stranger to Fiery Waters”: Gore Vidal and the Matter of Alcohol’

The last years of Gore Vidal’s life were blighted by dementia and Wernicke-Korsakoff, a syndrome normally associated with a chronic alcohol use disorder. Vidal’s dependence upon alcohol, although hardly a secret during his lifetime, has been overtly exposed since his death in 2012 through unflattering portraits in the memoirs of various acquaintances, and in the biography written by his friend Jay Parini (2015). Scholarly works in which the alcohol dependence of writers in the United States has been more seriously explored (such as Tom Dardis’s The Thirsty Muse (1989) and Olivia Laing’s The Trip to Echo Spring (2013)) have omitted discussion of the case of Gore Vidal. Vidal wrote candidly about the alcoholism of his mother, Nina, but did not directly allude in his works to his own addiction. A careful consideration of his oeuvre reveals that he quite frequently referred to alcohol dependence in the portrayal of both fictional and historical characters. None of the published scholarship on his works to date has examined this topic. In this paper, I propose to explore some examples of the ways in which Vidal approached the matter of alcohol in his memoirs and fiction, and how he both engaged with and evaded his own relationship with alcohol through the creative process.

Bio:

Dr Heather Neilson, Senior Lecturer, English and Media Studies program, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, UNSW, Canberra.

Heather Neilson’s monograph, Political Animal: Gore Vidal on Power, was published by Monash University Press in 2014. She is a past president of the Australian and New Zealand American Studies Association (ANZASA), and a past editor of the Australasian Journal of American Studies. In 2021, she chaired the judging panel for the Australian University Heads of English’s Literary Scholarship Prize.

‘A Town’s Shameful Secret’

This paper examines little-known Australian film, Shame (1988) and the American made-for-television remake Shame (1992). The protagonist of both films is a motorbike-riding lawyer who rides into a country town blighted by an endemic rape culture. Although conceived as an action-adventure film, Shame is perhaps better described as a suspenseful drama or Australian Gothic. The original version of the film shares characteristics with Ozploitation films like The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) and Dead End Drive In (1986) where, due to a car crash or a mechanical failure, a protagonist is trapped in an insular and menacing place with a shameful secret. The film(s) have been largely overlooked in critical discussions about Australian cultural narratives about unspeakable secrets, sexual violence, and the law. This paper utilises scholarship about gender and action films, and about the rape revenge genre to explore how the hero (Cadell) is cast as feminist avenger and agent of change. Rather than being a bombshell or a babe, Cadell is a tough action chick who embodies (female) heroism. She, as Sara Ahmed (2017) would describe it, snaps. That snap triggers a collective snap with women in town finally shedding light on the town’s secrets and shifting responsibility and shame away from the victim/survivors and onto the perpetrators and those who enable them.

Bio:

Rebecca Johinke’s work is wide ranging and interdisciplinary, but it has always included a strong focus on gender and popular culture. Based in literary studies, her interests include Australian literature, film and popular culture (including popular music), with a strong focus on creative nonfiction, memoir, and print and digital magazines. She is also interested in driving and walking narratives and the flâneur. Her first book about Australian magazine editors and about disruption of the media and traditional magazine journalism, entitled Queens of Print, was published by Australian Scholarly Publishing in 2019.

Depicting the unnarrativisable

Shame is a powerful and deleterious experience, one that strikes “into the heart of man” to be felt as a “sickness of the soul” and one which may leave an individual “defeated, alienated and lacking dignity”. Yet as Western cultures have become more shame prone, as the importance of social connection has increased, there are significant cultural taboos and silences around shame. This cultural reluctance to speak of shame – for to admit to shame is further shaming – is evident, US sociologist Thomas Scheff argues, in the lack of adequate terminology to describe shame in English. Yet this lack of terminology or language poses the risk certain types of experience may be “buried or lost” because a culture provides no language through which they may be expressed. Art and literature, however, may provide another “language” for shame, traditionally slippery and difficult to narrativise. Indeed art and literature may prove instructive in how to deal with emotions, may provide an outlet for emotions proscribed in everyday life, and act as a “conduit for the reorientation for emotional states”. An analysis of three contemporary works of literature examining shame, namely Salman Rushdie’s Shame, Ian McEwan’s Atonement and J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, as well as the outcomes of my own creative-practice led research, which has culminated in a novel, Turned From View, reveal to what extent shame is able to be narrativized and given “voice” to in contemporary Western cultures, and what this may reveal about the possibilities of shame.

‘Open Secret: Alison Whittaker’s BLAKWORK’

Whittaker’s poetry volume BLAKWORK (2018) devises new techniques for exposing the dreamwork of colonialism. From her poems which algorithmically re-present the punctual legal judgements of Aboriginal oppression (Trevorrow, Mabo, Ms Dhu), to the em-dashes and carriage returns that bisect the buzzwords of contemporary reconciliation discourse (re— /—conciliation, compul— / —sory, forgiv—/—ing), Whittaker’s poems show colonisation hiding in plain sight. The secret, they announce, is that there is no secret. It’s right there in ‘blak’ and ‘white’.

Secrecy in Whitaker’s work abandons the traditional conceits of the veil and the burial. Instead of depth metaphors, secrecy is lateral and metonymic, captured not in a hidden meaning but in the vector that sends the words through their ‘natural’ courses. The secret is not housed in a sacred chamber, but oozes banally as a ‘dawdling off-trend meme’ (3). Whittaker’s novel apprehension of the way that secrets are secreted begets a new definition of the fundamental task; that is to say, it results in a transfiguration of the idea of work. This traverses both blakwork and whitework, as well as the other kinds of work detailed in the book (e.g. groundwork, selfwork, workwork). Work consists not in turning an absence into a presence (uncovering, positivisation) but in de-focusing the eyes habituated to seeing Indigenous people as the colonial object. This opens up the field of Indigeneity. The book enjoins its white readers to do something other than talk – for ‘chalk is cheap’ (83) – and its blak readers to act in ways that do not re-enact colonisation (i.e resist ‘Blak Captcha’ (134).

Bio:

Tony Hughes-d’Aeth is the Chair of Australian Literature at the University of Western Australia and the author of Like Nothing on this Earth: A Literary History of the Wheatbelt (UWAP, 2017) and Paper Nation: The Story of the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia (MUP, 2001).

Eleanor Dark’s Chronotopes:

Eleanor Dark’s Chronotopes: Temporality, History and Cultural Difference in the Timeless Land Trilogy

Perhaps Eleanor Dark’s greatest challenge in writing her trilogy of early Sydney—made up of The Timeless Land, Storm of Time and No Barrier and published between 1941 and 1953—was to compile within a historical novel the perspectives of not only multiple characters but also of characters coming from radically distinct cultural milieux: principally, European and Indigenous Australian. In 1941 she wrote to William Collins, her publisher in the UK, as the last few changes were being made to The Timeless Land suggesting that her greatest challenge was to convey an Aboriginal sense of time:

[T]o suggest the passage of time to readers of the white race (which has always measured time by events) through the minds of black people (whose history was, from our point of view, very uneventful, and who never had any very strong conception of time at all) is a task which I feel may be quite impossible!1

This is no slight statement. Dark was already a deft hand at complex and nonlinear narrative modernism—1934’s Prelude to Christopher being a case in point. Dark offers strategies to make her inscription of Aboriginal time manageable in the first of the novels in the trilogy by, for instance, focalising on few Aboriginal characters (with an emphasis on Bennelong [whom she spells Bennilong]). Drawing on Bakhtin’s notion of the chronotope, this proposed chapter aims to examine the sense of time and cultural interface sketched by Dark across her trilogy of historical novels.

Bio:

Michael R. Griffiths is Senior Lecturer in English Literatures at the University of Wollongong. He is the author of The Distribution of Settlement: Appropriation and Refusal in Australian Literature and Culture (UWAP 2018) and his essays have appeared in Textual Practice, Settler Colonial Studies, Discourse, Postcolonial Studies, Australian Humanities Review and many other venues. Griffiths edited the book Biopolitics and Memory in Postcolonial Literature and Culture. He also coedited with Tanja Dreher, a special issue of Continuum which offered an account of freedom of speech debates in the late liberal world; the latter was reprinted as an edited book in 2021.

Mapping Massacre Site in Postcolonial Australian Travel Writing

Massacre sites are amongst the most difficult places for postcolonial travellers to visit and to represent. And yet, they are, in their way, amongst the most compelling legacies of colonialism. Massacre sites are spaces of extreme violence; they reflect the means that colonisers, past and present, have been prepared to employ to ensure domination of unceded territories. That massacres of Indigenous people, from Australia to north America, India to Latin America, were strategically adopted by colonising populations for securing their access to and sovereignty over territories, is now widely accepted. Massacre sites then, for postcolonial subjects, represent fundamental contradictions at the heart of the colonial enterprise and powerful challenges to postcolonial cultures struggling with the terms of reconciliation. How do travellers approach such sites? Why are these sites important to efforts for reconciliation between indigenous/colonised and non-indigenous/colonisers in postcolonial societies? How is the meaning of such sites shifting? What are the dangers posed to these sites by the vogue in dark tourism and travel? This paper consider case studies of postcolonial travel writing that attempts to engage with the histories, memories, and meanings of massacre sites.

Bio:

Dr Robert Clarke is a senior lecturer in the English and Writing Program, School of Humanities, University of Tasmania, Australia. He is the author of Travel Writing from Black Australia: Utopia, Melancholia, and Aboriginality (2016), and the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Postcolonial Travel Writing (2018), and Celebrity Colonialism: Fame, Representation and Power in Colonial and Postcolonial Cultures (2009). As well he is the editor and co-editor of “Rethinking Postcolonial Europe: Moving Identities, Changing Subjectivities” (spec. issue Postcolonial Interventions forthcoming 2022), “Tasmanian Travel Writing” (spec. issue Studies in Travel Writing 2016), “Shadow Zones: Dark Travel in Postcolonial Cultures” (spec. issue Postcolonial Studies 2014), and “Travel and Celebrity Culture” (spec. issue Postcolonial Studies 2009).

‘Tyranny of Silence’: The Uses of the Erotic in Audre Lorde’s poetry

The idea of passion and pain becomes important to understand the erotic in Lorde’s poetry. It is soaked with a fearlessness with which she demands other women to speak. The notion of the erotic which has always been seen in the mainstream as closely aligned to the idea of the sexual act, finds a new freedom in the works of Lorde. For she passionately pleads for precisely this candour, this ability to pour out without feeling shame, disgust or fear. She doesn’t talk about the act of hiding what a woman doesn’t want to show, for even the assertion to visibilise our own hiddenness is taken away from us. We are programmed to hide or to show but never truly be ourselves- free to be seen and heard as we want. The silences that we yearn to break but are forced to keep against our will. It is in these terms she articulates fear which she primarily understands as a fear to be seen, to be visible in a society that has taught us to be anything but our true selves, that has always prescribed only certain ways of existing. My paper will examine how resisting this ‘ tyranny of silence’ is a battle for space, for representation, a battle to be heard and to break the silences within the archive of women’s writing.

Through this unrestrained capacity to speak, to initiate dialogue with the feminist movements that have remained silent on Black women’s rights, the erotic is transformed into an act that no longer allows invisibility but rather the erotic becomes something of a tool at our disposal that brings us freedom from the isolation caused by our silences.

Bio:

Swarnika Ahuja is an MPhil student in Department of English, University of Delhi. My research interests include women’s narratives, political aesthetics and the history of emotions

On the Limits of Imagination: Experiences of First Nations Writers and Writers of Colour within the Australian Literary Industry.

In this paper I will discuss the results of a series of interviews I undertook in 2020 and 2021 with Australian writers from First Nations and/or migrant backgrounds who have published at least one full-length book. The respondents also have a combined readership spanning from children’s fiction all the way up to adult readers; and also write in a variety of forms (poetry, prose, theatre, fiction and non-fiction) and genres (realist fiction, postmodern fiction, fantasy, science and speculative fiction). The project aimed to ascertain the interviewees’ experiences related to the public and or critical reception and perception of their works and questions were focussed on reviews, promotional material, appearances on panels, interviews and literary prizes. Despite the vast differences between the individual writers, the data details that the experiences of First Nations and migrant writers within the Australian Literary Industry share many commonalities. That is, despite differences in genre, form and target audience, there exists a continued exoticisation and/or marginalisation of works by writers considered to be ‘diverse.’ I will argue that the Australian Publishing Industry continues to homogenise the works of these authors and this is not only has implications for the established writers, but also for emerging writers. The perpetuation of the marginalisation and exoticisation of ‘diverse’ writers creates a narrow artistic framework for all writers from First Nations and migrant backgrounds, and thus places real limitations on writers and their imaginative work.

Bio:

Natalie Kon-yu is a writer, academic and editor whose work has been published nationally and internationally. She is the co-commissioning editor of #Me Too: Stories from the Australian Women’s Movement (Picador, 2019), Mothers and Others: Why Not All Women are Mothers and All Mothers are Not the Same (Pan Macmillan, 2015) and Just Between Us: Australian Writers Tell the Truth about Female Friendship (Pan Macmillan 2013). Her first monograph, The Cost of Labour, will be published by Affirm Press in 2022.

Identity formation of the Manipuri ethnic in Bangladesh.

This paper tries to explore how the younger generations of the Manipuri ethnic group in Bangladesh change their family names into the earlier one. Manipuri community forms of seven clans. Manipuri is one of the Indigenous communities in Bangladesh, but using Indigenous terms is not approved in the country. Today’s Manipuri generations have started using these earlier clans, while they are giving up the surnames that have been using since they adopted the Hinduism in 18th century. The community faces confusion between the surnames of Hinduism and the original family clans. The Manipuri follows the Sanamahi religion, which is one of the ancient religions in Asia. The community did not give up on this religion, even though Hinduism penetrated at some stage. Cultural awareness plays an important role in identity formation. Then, education allows the community to form a new identity with their existing cultural traits. The generation of the Manipuri tries to revive their clans and present a new identity to the community and the country. The community conceptualizes that they can maintain their identity with this new identity formation while using the earlier family clans. I have used in-depth interviews, social media, and secondary documents to conduct this research. This paper will examine why the Manipuri ethnic group makes them to form a new identity. Then, this paper investigates how they are dealing with the greater Manipuri community in forming a new identity in such a populated country like Bangladesh.

Bio:

Rajmoni Singha taught Anthropology at Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB) before he started PhD at CDU. In his career, Rajmoni dealt with international students who come from multicultural backgrounds. Mr. Singha received MPhil in Social Anthropology focusing on Sustainable Society from the University of Bergen, Norway. He also did a Master of Development Practice (MDP) focusing on “Environmental area” from James Cook University, Australia. His research areas focus on Indigenous communities and local knowledge, and livelihood improvement. Mr. Singha highlights his research on Indigenous handicrafts and its culture, beliefs, worldviews, and identity. Mr. Singha emphasizes on health and environment along with Indigenous communities and local environmental management systems.

Double Exposures: Patrick White and William Yang

This presentation revisits Patrick White’s friendship with William Yang and considers how Yang’s photographs of White bring into focus some of the major themes of White’s final novels. White and Yang met in 1977, and White later asked Yang to photograph him posing as his female protagonist Alex Xenophon Demirjian Gray for the release of Memoirs of Many in One (1986). White explained that “She is me… so I thought I’d have a photo of me as her for the frontispiece and a photo of me as Patrick on the back flap” (quoted in David Marr’s biography). White’s poor health prevented these pictures from being taken, though Yang did photograph White acting out Alex’s death in St Vincent’s hospital. Yang says of these macabre yet campy photographs that “[Patrick] didn’t like any of the death scene. He thought the blood was too theatrical and the kerchief was askew in some photos.” Yang’s photos were ultimately not included when Memoirs of Many in One was published, but the photos are a suggestive paratext for this odd novel’s combination of performance, mortality, and sexual ambivalence. More broadly, Yang’s friendship with White also draws attention to the discourse of photography in White’s late fiction, which I discuss in The Twyborn Affair (1979). The Twyborn Affair is White’s most photographically oriented novel, from its Diane Arbus epigraph (“Sometimes you’ll see someone with nothing on but a bandaid”) to scenes involving family photos being shared and interpreted (and even dreamed about) by the novel’s characters. Photographs appear to offer the novel’s characters reliable knowledge about their own confused personal and sexual lives, even as this knowledge proves illusory.

Bio:

Mark Azzopardi is Associate Professor of Intellectual Heritage and Modern Literature at Temple University, Japan. His recent publications have appeared in Australian Literary Studies, the Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, and the edited collection E. L. Doctorow: A Reconsideration (Edinburgh UP). Mark is currently working on a project about Patrick White and modernism.

The Two Kings: from deception to fidelity in the Wooing of Etain

For his long narrative poem, ‘The Two Kings’, W. B. Yeats reframes the 9th century mythological tale of Tochmarc Étaíne – The Wooing of Étaín so it becomes a romantic story of love and fidelity, avoiding the complex interplay of deception in relationships that flavours the full three-part saga. In the Tochmarc, there is polygamy, jealous femicide, altered identities, hidden lovers, infidelity, sexually-laden chess games, trophy wives, abandoned babies, and incest. There are layers upon layers of secrets, subterfuge and silence which are stripped away by Yeats so the unspeakable becomes revelatory and the veils between the worlds of fantasy and reality are torn down, metaphorically speaking. Yeats takes a tale of unconventional and complex relationships and hammers it into a narrative of unity, of harmony and balance achieved through conventionality. Tochmarc Étaíne is about the tension between the two existences of fantasy and reality, but Yeats takes it further by emphasizing the desirability not of the world of magic, immortality, and eternal pleasure, but of the real and tangible experience of a committed and faithful relationship in the temporal world. In this paper, I argue that his poem becomes a vehicle both to explore this idea and to convey it to his readership, thus demonstrating how an author can recreate story to relegate the painful realities of abusive relationships into the realm of disbelievable fantasy.

Bio:

Dr. Roxanne Bodsworth is a poet, celebrant and farmer living in North East Victoria. She achieved her PhD at Victoria University by reconstructing Irish mythology using the creative tool of feminist poetry. Roxanne has been widely published in a range of genres, with poetry appearing in various journals including Meniscus, Offset, SideWalK, Hobo, Poetrix and Tamba. Her verse novel, Unforgiven, will be released in January 2022 and her previous verse novel, The Tangled Web, was published in 1989 by Openbook Publishers. The third edition of her non-fiction book, Sunwyse – celebrating the Wheel of the Year in Australia, was released in 2020.

Listening to Silence in Christina Rossetti’s Sing-Song

One way to distinguish verse from poetry, the apparently minor from the apparently significant, is to note that verse forms—limericks, nonsense lines, and more—tend to be marked by brevity. Christina Rossetti’s Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book (1872) is no exception. And this volume’s little songs employ a particularly noteworthy strategy of formal reduction: truncating a stanza’s last line (letting tetrameter, for instance, suddenly give way to dimeter) allows that stanza to enforce a silence that stands in for the absent syllables. Drawing on Yopie Prins’s influential analysis of metrical pauses, I ask what sorts of attention this strategy demands. The silence generated by an abbreviated final line can signal bereft exhaustion, which Sing-Song frequently connects with the death of a child. It cues mournful meditation on what has vanished. Yet at the same time, it can produce hopeful, awestruck expectation of the life to come.

These patterns shed new light on the depiction of motherhood and child death in Sing-Song, linking metrical silences to the nature of pre-verbal infants. Infantile speechlessness underscores the potency of the mother-child bond; caring (and speaking) for inarticulate babies empowers Rossetti’s women. But such silence may also indicate maternal isolation, frustration, and sorrow, especially because quiet infant slumber often shades into heartbreaking infant death in this volume. As the silences imposed by short lines signal both traumatic deprivation and fullness of possibility, so the non-responses of small children point to the ways in which motherhood both ennobles and depletes women. It is Sing-Song’s thematic treatment and formal display of littleness—the very quality that tends to associate it with trivial verse rather than with profound poetry—that lend it richness and depth.

Bio:

Veronica Alfano is a Research Fellow in the English Department at Macquarie University. Her first book is titled The Lyric in Victorian Memory: Poetic Remembering and Forgetting from Tennyson to Housman. With Andrew Stauffer, she is co-editor of the essay collection Virtual Victorians: Networks, Connections, Technologies; with Lee O’Brien, she edited the Summer 2019 special issue of Victorian Poetry, on the topic of “Gender and Genre.” Her current projects focus on Tennyson’s Maud, on Lear’s limericks, and on neologisms in the poetry of Hardy and Hopkins. She leads the Poetry Caucus of the North American Victorian Studies Association.