Robert Dessaix

The first draft didn’t have Tristan, this deformed little character. Then I was reading to the kids, Beauty and the Beast. It was very beautifully written, terribly moving – and they were moved. I read it to them many times, thinking it would be interesting to look at that. Then, round about this time, I was walking along the street and glimpsed a terribly deformed young man in a wheelchair. I couldn’t bear to look at him yet I carried with me afterwards a vision, this bright, bright intelligence and this weird twisted-up face. It was quite moving and, having flinched from it, as from a fire or being cut, I began to make myself think about what was in there. That really goes back again to the very beginning of my work, the short stories. In the very beginning I was affected by Faulkner and As I Lay Dying because Faulkner was giving rich, interior worlds to people who you might otherwise pass by. That’s been a continual thing in my work, perhaps.

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In the advertising world there’s a new and controversial trend towards catering for the X-Generation; that is, consumers with a two-second attention span, and we’re not just talking about teenagers on rollerblades.

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Dear Editor,

Caroline Lurie (ABR No. 131) cited four common criticisms of deconstruction. I think a more important reason is the danger deconstruction poses to the privileged position of the author as the source of one or multiple meanings for a text. It is significant to note that it is mostly the authors (both of narrative and critical discourses) who are so upset about deconstruction.

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For the past year I have been engaged in one of the activities that Robert Dessaix charges (ABR No. 129) are not only unnecessary but ‘harmful’ to the many writers briefly involved. I have been working as a Research Fellow at Deakin University with Sneja Gunew as the last in a line of bibliographers which has included Lolo Houbein and Alexandra Karakostas-Seda, updating and extending a bibliography of first and second generation Australian writers from non-English­speaking backgrounds. I have also been working on acquiring books by these writers to include in the collection of ‘Australian Literature’ at the Deakin University Library.

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Dear Editor,

The Fat Author Replies to Robert Dessaix:

The author does not embody Iiterary classification nor does she base her work on literary theory though literary criticism does inform her literary practice.

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In last month’s Telecom Australian Voices essay, Robert Dessaix discussed the ways in which multiculturalism divides up the Australian literary scene, concluding that “in a word, it’s time our multicultural professionals stopped marginalising multicultural writers”. The response of Sneja Gunew, who was quoted in that essay, is printed in its entirety here, along with other letters prompted by the essay.

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‘No,’ Ania Walwicz said at the Melbourne Festival when asked if she was an ethnic writer, ‘I’m a fat writer.’ We laughed and applauded.

The multicultural professionals, however, may not let her (or Tess Lyssiotis) off the hook so easily. I have in mind that small but eloquent band of people, usually from institutions, who actually have a vested interest in keeping constructs like Anglo-Celtic/non-Anglo-Celtic, English-speaking background/non-English-speaking background alive and functional.

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 This volume of stories adds to the spate of books by or about Turgenev that have appeared recently yet it cannot be said to be redundant, as it provides an English version of five novellas not readily available in a collected form. Since the translator’s argument rests on the importance of the frequently neglected later part of Turgenev’s oeuvre (i.e. the shorter works appearing after the major novels) to a true understanding of Turgenev’s philosophical and spiritual history, then obviously the English-speaking world must have access to it, and they should be pleased to make the acquaintance of this accurate and easy translation.

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