SAM Seminar: Islands and the 'World' of Literature

When:17 Oct 2017, 5pm - 6:30pm
Venue:Cinema 327, Robert Webster Building
Who:Elizabeth McMahon, UNSW
Elizabeth McMahon

Oceania is largely absent from maps of World Literature and its shifting canons. The literatures of Oceania are not widely circulated in the ‘World’, as imagined by literary-humanist idealism or exploited by global markets. This seminar considers this invisibility in the context of the rising Pacific Ocean that threatens the existence of Oceania’s islands, particularly the island-atolls, into the future.

The seminar will examine literature’s role in the construction of a range of maps that reimagine regional relationality: It follows Pacific historian Donald Denoon to consider the possible utility of reviving regional colonial networks, such as ‘Australasia’, a formation that included all the British dependencies in the South Pacific until Australia became a nation state in 1901. Problematic as this is, indeed precisely because its evident flaws prohibit idealisation, re-membering these connections may disrupt the insularity of the powerful nations in the region, particularly Australia. It may also uncover literary, aesthetic connections lost in the cartographies of nation states.

This colonial map can be also overlaid and described with alternative models of Oceania’s regional relationality, as we find in the spoken-word poetry of Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner. This seminar will examine her poetic performance at the 2014 United Nations Climate Change Summit through the lens of classical rhetoric, to identify its holographic alternation between presence and invisibility to her 'World' audience.

Elizabeth McMahon is Associate Professor in the School of the Arts and Media at UNSW Sydney. Her research interests are in Australian literature, Island Studies and Gender studies. Her recent monograph, Islands, Identity and the Literary Imagination (New York and London: Anthem, 2016) is the culmination of research funded by an ARC Discovery grant titled Our Island Home: The Shifting Map of Australian Literature. She has also published widely on the representation of gender and sexuality in Australian writing, and recently edited, with Dr Brigitta Olubas, a new collection on Australian author Elizabeth Harrower. Since 2008 she has co-edited Southerly, Australia's oldest literary journal and co-edits a book series titled Rethinking the Island for Rowman and Littlefield International.

SAM Seminar Series

This series provides a showcase and forum for local as well as international scholars, researchers, industry practitioners and creative artists – ranging from early-career to well-established – to present on their work. No need to book, all welcome.

Find out more and see the full program.
Enquiries contact: SAM Seminar Convenor, Collin Chua –

Finding us

Robert Webster Building is located mid-way off the UNSW main walkway. Map Reference G14. Cinema 327 is located on the third floor.

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Supported by UNSW Creative Practice Lab

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