Life Writing Symposium, 13-15 June 2006

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This symposium revolved around research in biography, autobiography, memoir, biographically-driven fiction or poetry, travel writing, and biographical writing forms in new or alternative media.

Sidonie Smith (Professor of English and Women's Studies, University of Michigan) and Kay Schaffer (Professor of Gender Studies, University of Adelaide) were the symposium's two special guests.

This event was planned as a working symposium, in which everyone took an active part in discussions.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 12 of 12
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    "You are writing a gospel...":"Life Writing" and the Lives of Jim Page and Rebecca Forbes in the Adnyamathanha Community. [abstract].
    (2006) Spencer, Tracy
    This paper seeks to explore the construction of an hybrid life-writing text similar to the genre of ‘gospel’ and incorporating ‘parable’. The text produced for the project ‘White Lives in a Black Community: the lives of Jim Page and Rebecca Forbes in the Adnyamathanha community’ seeks to narrate historic lives, through a postmodern and postcolonial hybrid text, in order to engage the contemporary reader in a critical response to Indigenous – non-Indigenous relationships in Australia.
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    Lost Generation: Women Writers in Postwar Australia. [abstract].
    (2006) Sheridan, Susan Margaret
    Australia, 1959: In Tasmania, poet Gwen Harwood starts sending out her poems under male pseudonyms, after several encounters with misogynist literary editors; Dorothy Hewett, silent for the previous decade, publishes "Bobbin Up", a successful novel in the social realist mode approved by the Communist Party (of which she was a member) but one that allowed little scope to her poetic gifts or her theatrical ambitions; Elizabeth Jolley arrives in Perth from England and begins to send out stories, but must wait until 1976 to publish a book. They are but three of the generation of women writers who were largely lost from view in the 1950s and 60s, and who are now in danger of being eclipsed in subsequent histories. In looking for answers to the question of why their early careers were so beset with difficulties, Professor Sheridan hopes at the same time to create a picture of the literary culture of the period that will be different because of the presence of women in it – and to offer accounts of these women’s writing lives that will expand our understanding of their art and its continuing significance.
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    "Written extempore" William Anderson Cawthorne's "Literarium Diarium", A Colonial Diary. [abstract].
    (2006) Hosking, Rick
    The Adelaide schoolteacher William Anderson Cawthorne began writing his "Literarium Diarium" 22 October 1842, keeping the diary going until the 1860s. It survives in a number of battered volumes in the Mitchell Library of the State Library of New South Wales; one of Cawthorne’s daughters left her father’s papers to the library in the 1920s. The "Literarium Diarium" is a remarkable — if sometimes self indulgent — informal record of life in and around colonial Adelaide in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, in both word and image, in that Cawthorne was not only a writer but also a watercolourist, and many of the pages are illustrated. Its perspective is that of the 'littérateur', of the weekend amateur ethnographer; the diary has been recognised as one of the best records of everyday contact between the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains and the colonists that we have. While the diary is of considerable importance for its representation of the day-to-day minutiae of Adelaide life in the 1840s and 1850s, it is also remarkably revealing of the private thoughts and feelings of a young man on the fringes of lower middle class society in Adelaide.
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    The Life of a Long-Distance Satirist: How to Write a Book about Bruce Petty. [abstract].
    (2006) Phiddian, Robert Andrew
    In this paper, Robert Phiddian explores four pragmatic issues involved in writing a biography of Australian cartoonist and illustrator, Bruce Petty. When your subject has published at least weekly and often daily since 1963 (apart from annual leave and a brief hiatus of 2 months in 1976), your problem is one of profusion. When your subject has also made a dozen animated features, hundreds of prints, several sculptures, and half a dozen books, your problem with profusion is not exactly dissipating. When your subject has led a personal life that in many ways exemplifies the social changes in Australia in a period spanning the Depression to the present, and is happy enough to talk about them, sanity demands that you view profusion is a realm of happy opportunity.
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    Constructing the Life of the Medieval Virgin Martyr as Death. [abstract].
    (2006) Cadwallader, Robyn
    'Passio' of the virgin martyr were extremely popular in the medieval world, providing a model and inspiration for women. Such Lives are distinguished from the biographies of female saints, which gave detailed accounts of women known to the writer, while virgin martyr Lives were legendary, formed from stories several centuries old, that were often adapted and supplemented according to the circumstances. Some, for example, were written for anchoresses, those committed to a perpetually enclosed life; others were used on saints’ days in church. The result is stories that are highly conventionalised in both structure and imagery, forming a body of literature that reflects attitudes to women and virginity, as well as raising some intriguing and complex questions about the nature of female agency and spirituality. In this paper, Dr Cadwallader firstly explores the highly conventional nature of the stories through a range of medieval passio to establish the qualities of the virgin martyr and the basic elements of her story. This study of the conventions of the virgin martyr Life establishes the base for the discussion which forms the second part of the paper, in which several major issues emerge.
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    Mapping the Body Electric: Digital Authors in the Blogosphere. [abstract].
    (2006) Cavanagh, Katie Eve
    Since blogs are very different in many respects than the established literary forms, there is plenty of room for new exploration. Academic discussion is currently limited by the lack of shared terminology and critical ideas that can assist discussion of the structure and purpose of blogs. When print models are pulled directly into new media, confusion is caused by attempts to match the existing vocabulary to the new techniques and styles of writing. This paper proposes that blogs can usefully be separated into several categories; blogs used as diaries, blogs used as networking/community building tools, blogs used professionally for self-promotion or public journalism. This paper proposes to further refine this model by suggesting theoretical frameworks and utilising examples to assist with carrying the discussion of blogs into the academic and life narrative realms. There is a tremendous upsurge in the number of voices available through the new digital publishing models; it is time to try to make some sense of the digital chatter.
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    Narrative Strategies in the Fictive Diary: Reader-Response Theory and the Grossmiths' "The Diary of a Nobody". [abstract].
    (2006) Morton, Peter Ralph
    This paper argues that the English mock-diary emerged definitively in the late-Victorian years, when a flood of pompous, self-regarding diaries and memoirs finally drew the attention of satirists. The best and most enduring example – it has never been out of print – is "The Diary of a Nobody" (1888-9; 1892), by the brothers Grossmith. Apart from being arguably the first fully realised fictive diary of any type in English, the "Diary" has had a strong influence for more than a century not only on 'suburban' fiction generally, but on other popular mock-diaries, from Anita Loos' "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1925) to Sue Townsend's "Adrian Mole" series (1982-2004) and Helen Fielding's "Bridget Jones' Diary" (1996). All these authors have paid public tribute to it, and have, implicitly, built on Mr Pooter's defensive opening statement: 'I fail to see – because I do not happen to be a "Somebody" – why my diary should not be interesting.'
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    An Autobiography of Everyone? Intentions and Definitions in Doris Lessing’s “Memoirs of a Survivor”. [abstract].
    (2006) Dooley, Gillian Mary
    "Memoirs of a Survivor" was first published in 1974, and is the second of what Lessing has described as her “unrealistic stories”. The “real” setting of the novel is an unnamed English city in the near future, when for some unexplained reason civilization is crumbling. The narrator, a single middle-aged woman, is mysteriously put in charge of a young girl, Emily. The wall of her flat occasionally melts to reveal a large house. This is the “impersonal” world; however, shortly after Emily’s arrival, the narrator begins to be subjected, beyond the wall, to a child’s-eye view of an oppressive nursery where “personal” scenes from the childhood of Emily and her baby brother are played out. Meanwhile, in the “real” world, Emily passes with unnatural rapidity through the stages of adolescence, while outside cannibalism and violence become common among the gangs of young people. The narrator and Emily are besieged in the flat until the wall finally reopens and admits them to a new world. "Memoirs" is subtitled, in the early editions, “an attempt at autobiography.” Lessing complains, “curiously, no one noticed it, as if that precision was embarrassing”. This is not strictly true: of a sample of ten contemporary reviews, only half do not mention the autobiographical element.
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    Italo Calvino: Attentive Observer of Life, Experienced or Imagined. [abstract].
    (2006) Baker, Margaret Anne
    The Italian writer Italo Calvino, who died in September 1985, is remembered as a fabulist and essayist. His writing spans a range that reflects the diversity of his cultural interests but shows a basic consistency of narrative purpose, as outlined in his essays and responses to his cultural environment. The intellectual curiosity that marked Calvino’s writing from his beginnings in the immediate postwar period of neorealism led him to many areas, the recent political situation as well as fantasy that at surface level seemed disengaged. Even though remaining a fabulist, his approach to his material gradually became concentrated on that close observation of the surrounding reality that we find in his last writing (Eng. titles: "Mr Palomar" of 1983, and "Under the Jaguar Sun", 1986). By making reference to this typical Calvinian mixture of insistence on the observable reality and on the writer’s, and readers’, freedom to float with the imagination, this paper points to the layers of reflection that the author brings to one of the traditional tropes used in his writing.
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    Autobiographical Mirrors: Old English elegies as narrative "un-memoirs". [abstract].
    (2006) Bennett, Lisa Lynn
    In this paper, Lisa Bennett analyses two Old English elegies - "The Wanderer" and "The Seafarer" – and suggests that they are medieval examples of dramatic ‘non-biographies’, or narrative ‘un-memoirs’. While these poems contain elements that are uncannily similar to conventions of autobiography, this paper discusses the notion that such similarities are not necessarily relevant to Anglo-Saxon culture, but instead are potentially revelatory in regards to Australian cultural reading and writing practices.
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    Peddling the Death of a Life: A Victorian Variation. [abstract].
    (2006) Cadwallader, Alan Harold
    This paper seeks to explore how one forgotten, Victorian-formed individual sought to deal privately with the death of his publicly esteemed father. Through the journey that takes us through County Durham, Peterborough, Cambridge, Harrow, Bristol, and London we discover the conjunction of athleticism and mortality, place and people, pilgrimage and passages, religion and leisure, photography and memorialisation, discipline and dissipation, networks and mourning. It provides a counterpoint to the accent on death in Victorian England as a time of national readjustment by arguing that the particular method of dealing with a significant death carved by Henry Westcott for himself was novel, cathartic and yet constantly interacting with and informed by the legacy of a range of Victorian values — a legacy that is both reinforced in Henry through the death of his famous father and also subtly interrogated and eroded as Henry peddles through the complexities of disentanglement from the paterfamilias.
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    Cyber-Commemoration: Life Writing, Trauma and Memorialisation. [abstract].
    (2006) Douglas, Kate
    In this paper, Kate Douglas explores one of the ways in which life narratives of trauma are circulating in contemporary Australian cultural landscapes: through the internet. Using the example of the Bali bombings, Dr Douglas wants to consider the role internet media have played in traumatic remembering and commemoration. Like many (actual) commemorative sites, these websites foreground life narratives in their representation of the traumatic event: testimonies from first- and second-person witnesses, photographs, poems and letters that assume significance beyond the individual. These narratives function as metonyms for survivors’ experiences.