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Leigh Dale

This is a thoughtful and timely issue of Australian Literary Studies (ALS), one of Australia’s most substantial scholarly journals. It brings together scholars from institutions across Australia, India, and New Zealand to reflect on the state of the discipline of English in the context of a number of recent upheavals, including those directly relating to print media, including literature, which many would consider the traditional focus and matter of English. It also includes shifts in cultural literacy in the Internet age: changes in the nature of reading and the places and ways readers read; changes in school curricula; changes in the higher education sector – in response partly to changes in literacy and school education and to a rise in vocational training at both levels; to the rise of the corporate university; and to developments over the past several decades that we might think of as internal to the discipline: the critiques of syllabi and reading practices focused on canonical texts; the rise of theory; of post-colonial and feminist and minority discourse approaches; of interdisciplinary reading, and so on. The contributors to this volume address these questions in terms of debates around ‘the public humanities’: that is, defences of the traditional humanities by scholars from literary studies along with philosophers and historians in the face of attacks from the political and corporate world about the ‘relevance’ of these fields of inquiry.

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Australian Literary Studies is a journal of the old school, independent of the international academic publishers that have absorbed so many others, and difficult to obtain for casual reading. It has maintained a solid reputation among scholars. From the evidence presented here, it is easy to see why.

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Antipodes vol. 20, no. 2 edited by Nicholas Birns & Australian Literary Studies vol. 22, no. 4 edited by Leigh Dale

May 2007, no. 291

In an essay for Australian Literary Studies (ALS) exploring the modernist networks of Judith Wright and Frank Scott, Anouk Lang argues that ‘participation in modernist little magazines … was crucial to their development as writers. Publication in these journals validated their tentative efforts and imbued them with confidence to move on to further ventures.’ It is a terrific recommendation for the important role that literary journals continue to serve for writers – both emerging and established, creative and academic. ALS and Antipodes provide vigorous examples of two such journals which support the fostering and fortification of literary culture in Australia.

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Westerly vol. 50, November 2005 edited by Delys Bird and Dennis Haskell & Australian Literary Studies vol. 22, no. 2, 2005 edited by Anne Pender and Leigh Dale

March 2006, no. 279

As an academic teaching in literary studies, I regularly feel compelled to justify my job, particularly in the light of dwindling enrolments. Literary journals and the writers who feature in them, judging by the latest issue of Westerly, also feel pressure to defend their relevance, primarily due to their small audiences. Delys Bird and Dennis Haskell, in an editorial commemorating fifty years of Westerly, pay tribute to the ‘creative and intellectual enthusiasm’ that drives the journal and celebrate its survival in a culture they believe is becoming increasingly visually, rather than verbally, literate. Tracy Ryan, one of the contributors, alludes to a different obstacle: public resentment. Her poem ‘Curriculum Vitae’ summarises public attitudes to writers: ‘Narcissism, egotism, think the world owes you a living, / God’s gift.’ What to do in the face of such indifference and even dislike?

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