The winner of the 2021 AUHE Prize for Literary Scholarship is Paul Giles, for The Planetary Clock: Antipodean Time and Spherical Postmodern Fictions (Oxford University Press).
The judges commented:
Among an impressively strong and diverse field of nominated books, The Planetary Clock is preeminent by virtue of its authoritative engagement with theory and its outstandingly transnational and interdisciplinary range. Paul Giles includes insightful close readings of numerous works from not only various literary genres but also cinema, music, and the visual arts. While overtly eclectic, the book pointedly foregrounds authors and texts from Australia and New Zealand, which have been hitherto under-represented in surveys of postmodernism. Giles emphasises the potential of a more extensively conceived antipodean perspective to disorient conventional western understandings of temporal and spatial relations. Exploring the various ways in which temporality has been represented in postmodernism, the book is also intended to illuminate “the wider discursive framework, indicating ways in which ecology and biogenetics as well as religion are reconstituted in aesthetic terms.” In part a meditation on the Anthropocene, The Planetary Clock convincingly demonstrates the ethical obligation of cultural studies (most broadly defined) to intervene in the world’s most urgent debates.
The judges also congratulate the authors whose works were shortlisted:
Anne Collett and Dorothy Jones: Judith Wright and Emily Carr: Gendered Colonial Modernity (Bloomsbury)
This book is remarkable for its comparison of two women in different countries, from different times, working in different artistic media as they struggled in similar ways against patriarchal and colonialist attitudes across time and oceans. It draws on considerable delving into biographical detail and presents a clear investigation of both Judith Wright and Emily Carr as they formed their unique artistic visions, each of which changed as they grew older. The disparate materials are held together by the feminist framework, a focus on modernism including a pertinent “triangulation” with the writing of Virginia Woolf, and by the authors’ own stories in which their mothers are honoured. This is a solid work of scholarship which remains engaging for the reader.
Tanya Dalziell, Gail Jones: Word, Image, Ethics (Sydney University Press)
This is the first monograph on one of Australia’s most polished contemporary writers of fiction. It provides a lucid coverage of Jones’s output that is overtly informed by theory but is nonetheless expressed in clear language. Dalziell identifies the major themes of Jones’s oeuvre thus far, her book being sensibly organised into the topics: Weather; Time; Reading and Writing; Image; and Modernity. She ably shows how the texts which she analyses “lace and loop” images into patterns, and points profitably to how Jones wrestles with questions of ethics, concerning who can tell another’s story and to what extent reconciliation with others and with the past is possible.
Andrew Dean, Metafiction and the Postwar Novel: Foes, Ghosts, and Faces in the Water (Oxford University Press)
In this work, Andrew Dean provides a refreshing and much-needed re-evaluation of postmodern metafiction, or fiction that self-consciously addresses its status as fiction. Dean’s provocative starting point is that metafiction has been misunderstood as a mode of irony that detaches authors from their historical and political contexts. Deftly mixing archival research, social analysis and close reading, Dean shows how metafiction is a mode of literary thinking that is rooted in the particular: in the “personal, local, intimate.” He provides incisive and clear-sighted analysis of how J. M. Coetzee, Janet Frame and Philip Roth use self-consciously literary practices in their fiction to negotiate their personal, political and historical situations. The book expands our understanding of metafiction by approaching the genre with new maturity.
Paul Hetherington and Cassandra Atherton, Prose Poetry: An Introduction (Princeton University Press)
In this comprehensive and illuminating introduction to a literary genre whose very descriptor may appear oxymoronic, the authors assert that prose poetry is “nothing less than the most important new poetic form to emerge in English-language poetry since the advent of free verse.” Although the book predominantly focuses on prose poetry produced in recent decades, the authors helpfully examine its antecedents in earlier forms of both poetry and prose. They suggest that prose poetry is flourishing in the present moment in a manner comparable to the emergence of the modern novel in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – indeed, that prose poetry may be the literary form through which the challenging conditions of our times will most appositely be expressed.
David McInnes, Shakespeare and Lost Plays: Reimagining Drama in Early Modern England (Cambridge University Press)
Although David McInnes recommends that his book be read in conjunction with sections of the Lost Plays Database, of which he is a co-founder and editor, Shakespeare and Lost Plays independently offers a meticulously researched examination of a range of works which would have been familiar to London theatre audiences in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries but which, for a variety of reasons, have not survived. McInnes firmly challenges the conventional notion that the plays of this period which are no longer extant must have been inferior to those still accessible. He demonstrates how an awareness of the breadth of what was available to Shakespeare’s audiences refreshes our understanding of Shakespeare’s own works. As McInnes remarks, “Every extant play is deeply embedded in its repertorial moment”, being written and then performed not in isolation but rather within specific cultural and commercial contexts.
Matthew Sussman Stylistic Virtue and Victorian Fiction: Form, Ethics, and the Novel (Cambridge University Press)
Matthew Sussman fascinatingly connects two concepts that today’s reader would be more likely to oppose: style and virtue. Sussman’s striking claim in the book is that the verbal qualities of a text, even when considered separately from the text’s content, can have ethical or moral value. The book offers a new way of conceptualizing the ethical value of formalism by recovering how Victorian writers connected the ideas of virtue and style. One of its invaluable contributions to the field is to situate Victorian fiction in a long history of rhetorical criticism that takes Aristotle’s Art of Rhetoric as its source of inspiration. In chapters that are both philosophically robust and painstakingly researched, Sussman establishes how stylistic virtues resemble moral virtues in providing a characterological ideal. If there is a moral to this intricately argued book, it might be “art for virtue’s sake.”
Judging Panel: Heather Neilson (Chair), Chris Danta, & Paul Sharrad