The principle of inclusion and exclusion

Ned Kelly’s Last Stand (2010). Arkady Gollings. Charcoal on paper. 21.0 x 29.7 cms.

In a discussion published recently in the Sydney Review of Books, the academic and writer Emmett Stinson argued that despite a number of recent assertions to the contrary, an Australian ‘cultural cringe’ persists. Although writers and academics such as Susan Johnson, Ken Gelder and Paul Salzman, and Nick Bryant have variously asserted that Australian culture is ‘enabled by cultural incorporation’ and is ‘punching above its weight in the arts and culture’, for Stinson, the only thing the new ‘literary internationalism’ has enabled is a situation in which the overseas reception of Australian fiction retroactively influences its Australian critical reception. The critical reception of such work, he argues, bears little relation to its literary worth. Of the two examples he mentions, ‘there is something deeply conservative about the aesthetics’. Both books ‘seem happy to work within the confines of well-established traditions, rather than trying to expand or exceed them.’ Stinson likens such palatable exports to Ikea flat-packed furniture, easily stored, packaged and reassembled.

What intrigues me about Stinson’s concerns is the extent to which they don’t necessarily hold true for contemporary Australian poetic practice. The Australian poets I read are voracious and insistent readers of American, European, Asian and Middle-Eastern poetry. And yet this consumption, far from resulting in a flat-pack poetics, contributes to the production of work that is vertiginous in its variety and invention. Part of this voracity, I want to show, has to do with the intricate networks that run between individual poets and the constantly evolving and dissipating communities that these communications bring to life. Over the coming weeks I will be reporting on a number of recent poetry readings, symposia, book publications and conferences that I think gesture towards something like a ‘coming community’, as Giorgio Agamben might have it, of Australian poetry.

In doing this, I want to be mindful of the kinds of difficulties such a proposal initiates. As the academic, poet and novelist Ali Alizadeh warns (in a blog post for one of Australia’s longest-running literary journals), ‘It is now all too common for individuals to view themselves as physically and spiritually included in the symbolic of a locality.’ For Alizadeh, such a view speaks of a ‘literary nationalism’ that attempts to cohere through its inscription on the institutionalised bodies of ideologically-driven publishing and arts organisations. In a later post, “‘Community’: networks, nepotism and exclusion”, Alizadeh asserts that ‘My experiences of our cherished ‘poetry communities’ in particular suggest that the term is more often than not a warm and fuzzy euphemism for the signified of self-serving scenes, gangs and cliques which–in addition to being nauseatingly nepotistic, incestuous and partisan […] operate on the basis of what philosopher Jacques Rancière has described as “the problematic remainder that [the community] terms ‘the excluded’” (115-6).’

In this sense, my posts risk constituting a kind of problematic remainder of the community of philosophical thought. They’ll exclude hundreds of Australian poets, they’ll fail to adequately account for the perceptions and observations they propose, they'll put forward a number of contradictory ideas that they'll then neglect to pursue. To an extent these posts might best be entertained as a series of journal entries tapped out on an electronic device during an Australian Poetry Road Trip. They’ll constitute my recent encounters with a range of poetic activities including a reading by John Tranter, Sam Langer, Marty Hiatt and Claire Nashar at one of the iconic ‘Sappho’s’ poetry nights in Sydney; remarks on The Real Through Line poetry symposium staged  in Melbourne in April; highlights from the Apoetic: Festival of Innovative Australian Poetry in Sydney with its near-historic assembly of Aboriginal poets; musings over the Contemporary Asian Australian Poets anthology; and from the 2013 ASAL conference held at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, notes from the launch of Outcrop: Radical Australian poetry of land edited by Jeremy Balius and Corey Wakeling. Next week:  in a brief interview, Justin Clemens, author of Psychoanalysis is an Antiphilosophy and the forthcoming ‘massively expanded’ six-volume reprise of his 2004 mock-epic, The Mundiad, postulates ‘a community that excludes every community’ and the possibility of a poetics based on a theory of diarrhetics.