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Don Anderson

I'm Dying Laughing by by Christina Stead

July 1987, no. 92

There has been altogether too much talk recently about literature and bliss, and not enough about sadness. Think of the gloom that descends when you have read all the works of a beloved author, and no fresh fields and pastures new remain. Years ago, I suffered this depression after reading all the works of William Faulkner. There was a brief respite when Flags in the Dust, an ur-version of Sartoris, appeared, but brief it was.

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From the enlightenment to post-modernity, there has been one common rallying cry: ‘This is the age of criticism.’ Religious authority, natural rights and philosophical dogmatism have all been under critique for so long that criticism has almost come to seem natural, authoritative and is in danger of hardening into dogma. Little surprise, then, that outside the academy the word ‘criticism’ is seldom linked with the venerable discourse of theology, politics and philosophy but rather with a comparatively recent and fluid phenomenon: Literature.

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Transgressions edited by Don Anderson & The Australian Short Story by Laurie Hergenhan

May 1986, no. 80

I have a theory that every second Australian is a closet short story writer. And this is a conservative estimate. According to my theory, the so-called ‘booms’ in the history of the Australian short story in the 1890s and 1950s merely reflected fashions in the book and magazine publishing businesses, not the relentless scratching away in exercise books or thumping of battered typewriters which occupies the waking hours of the determined taleteller and which is, I am convinced, a more popular national pastime than dodging income tax. How else to explain the sheer volume of short stories being published? And these are but the tip of the iceberg – a mere fraction of those that have been and are being written.

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From August 1978 through January 1979 I read the complete fiction of Christina Stead, as well as those of her critical writings I could locate. A writing career of more than forty years consumed by a voracious reader in six months! I trust that I was as scrupulous and sympathetic a reader as Christina Stead is an ethically and technically scrupulous, sympathetic novelist.

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