Christos Tsoilkas and ‘Writing for the World’

9781783084036_cov.inddChristos Tsiolkas is one of the most recognizable and internationally successful literary novelists working in Australia today. He is also one of the country’s most politically engaged writers. We recently published Christos and the Fiction of Critique: Politics, Obscenity, Celebrity which offering highly innovative readings and a critical analysis of the writer’s literary success. In the preface to the monograph, author Andrew McCann discusses the difficulty of getting international audiences interested in Australian literature.

According to Tom Shone, Christos Tsiolkas was “plucked from semi-obscurity and set on the literary rock-star track by his fourth novel, The Slap.” This fairly innocuous comment appeared near the opening of a Sunday Times article that Shone had based on an interview with Tsiolkas, conducted in New York in 2010. The setting is important. Shone and Tsiolkas are on the roof deck of the “quirky” and “boutique” Roger Smith Hotel on Lexington Avenue. Tsiolkas is apparently awed by the Manhattan skyline. He is also fiddling with his cell phone and juggling other commitments in a way befitting for someone in the middle of an American book tour.


The idea of plucking Tsiolkas from “semiobscurity” might have made sense to a British or North American readership, but to anyone who had paid even fleeting attention to the Australian literary scene over the preceding fifteen years, during which time Tsiolkas’s fiction had become a staple of critical discussion, it was likely to be jarring. Nevertheless, the comment did highlight one of the most salient aspects of Tsiolkas’s career: even after the enormous Australian interest generated by his 2005 novel Dead Europe, he had a very limited international profile. In the divide between the local and the global—between the apparently insular Australian market and the market per se—The Slap seemed to appear ex nihilo, and Tsiolkas himself was somehow disembodied and decontextualized in a way that would have been unthinkable to anyone familiar with the political vehemence and visceral extremism of his earlier work.

Scholars are professionally rewarded for working in established, and well trafficked, areas of predominantly British and American literature where relatively large academic constituencies facilitate citation and circulation.

I am dwelling on Shone’s article because it was at the moment I read it that I decided I wanted to write a monograph about Christos Tsiolkas. I had already experienced the difficulty of getting literary and academic communities outside of Australia interested in Australian writers. When I began working in the United States about a decade ago, some of my American colleagues had never heard of Peter Carey. And some had never heard of Patrick White. Confronting this merely reminds one that Australia is still, culturally speaking, a relatively small part of a global, Anglophone formation. From the perspective of the northern hemisphere, its literature tends to be either opaque or invisible. The dynamics of the field of literary studies have not helped. Scholars are professionally rewarded for working in established, and well trafficked, areas of predominantly British and American literature where relatively large academic constituencies facilitate citation and circulation.

At the same time notions of cultural capital in the American liberal arts still orient to traditionally defined periods and the canonical texts that constitute them. Yet as Tsiolkas worked his way along the east coast of the United States, he seemed to be gaining a level of exposure that produced both visibility and a certain kind of legibility. People had heard him interviewed on National Public Radio. He seemed to be topical, and topicality, of course, is one of the things that a critic looks for as a way of justifying a project. But related to this was the feeling that his celebrity was raising some genuinely pressing questions about the fate of radical writing in the era of global capitalism. “I had no idea [The Slap] was going to take me to Lexington Avenue,” Tsiolkas tells Shone. theslap_704“Trying to stand back, I’m interested in why it has proved so popular. I wonder what it says about contemporary writing—can you be popular without being populist?” [1] The composure of the self-questioning in this comment is quite different from the way in which Tsiolkas was speaking about global circulation earlier in his career.

“Writing for the world is exciting, tempting, but I think it is an imperialist dream. There are people who can’t read, people who don’t much want to read, there are people who read in different ways to me.”

A passage from the 1996 Jump Cuts, a series of dialogues with Sasha Soldatow that forms a sort of joint autobiography, seems to question exactly the sort of success Tsiolkas was now experiencing: “Writing for the world is exciting, tempting, but I think it is an imperialist dream. There are people who can’t read, people who don’t much want to read, there are people who read in different ways to me.” [2] The comment echoes one he made at the Melbourne Writers Festival in 1995. Partly reflecting on the distance between his work and the milieu of his Greek-speaking parents, he said,

I do not believe there is a writing that speaks to everyone. I write in English, and my parents cannot read my work. And even if they could, my work is dependent on the cultural practices of queer, of experimental writing, of a popular culture and music which makes little attempt to speak to them. [3]

Of course, coming up with an international bestseller is not “writing for the world,” or producing “writing that speaks to everyone,” but one still cannot help sensing a certain tension between the Sunday Times’s vision of Tsiolkas gazing over the New York skyline, realizing his arrival at the heart of global capitalism, and this earlier distance from a globalizing ambition that seems sufficiently implicit in the act of writing that one might want to disavow it. If there is a tension here—and perhaps there is only the semblance of a tension—it is one that occurs outside the ambit of authorial control or agency.

[1] Shone, “Novel of the Year? Get Ready for The Slap,” 11.

[2] Sasha Soldatow and Christos Tsiolkas, Jump Cuts: An Autobiography (Milsons Point, NSW:Random House, 1996), 282.

[3] Quoted in Ian Syson, “Smells Like Market Spirit: Grunge, Literature, Australia,” Overland 142 (Autumn 1996): 22.

New Book Spotlight: “A Guide to Trade Credit Insurance”

We recently published A Guide to Trade Credit Insurance as part of our Finance and Banking publishing programme. This release comes on the heels of a forthcoming series on alternative asset investing and a major book project on business modelling.

A Guide to Trade Credit Insurance is a compact volume presents an approachable but detailed guide written by industry experts from an international perspective. Topics they address include the credit process from the initial application sage to the expiration phase of the policy. The book offers practical information on the history of trade, the need for protection against trade credit risks, and a short term credit focus.


Anthem Press Prize at the 2015 Global Digital Humanities Conference

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From 29 June-3 July 2015, the University of Western Sydney will host the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations’ (ADHO) annual conference. This year in Sydney marks the first occasion the 26-year-old conference will not take place in Europe or North America. Times Higher Education has named the University of Western Sydney one of the best universities under the age of 50, and the university is home to Australia’s inaugural chair in Digital Humanities.

Keynote speakers at Global Digital Humanities 2015 are Genevieve Bell, vice president and fellow at Intel, Jeffrey T. Schnapps, cultural historian and faculty at Harvard University, and Tim Sherratt, a digital historian and cultural data hacker who manages Trove at the National Library of Australia.

At the conference, the Anthem Press Prize will be awarded to the best poster as judged by the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations Award Committee. The prize will be announced during the closing ceremonies. We will also be displaying featured titles.

The Anthem Scholarship in the Digital Age series investigates the global impact of technology and computing on knowledge and society. Tracing transformations in communication, learning and research, the groundbreaking titles in this series demonstrate the far-reaching effects of the digital revolution across disciplines, cultures and languages.

Recent titles in Anthem’s digital age series include Belinda Barnet’s Memory Machines: The Evolution of Hypertext, Katherine Bode’s Reading by Numbers: Recalibrating the Literary Field, and Michael Bhaskar’s The Content Machine: Towards a Theory of Publishing from the Printing Press to the Digital Network.

‘Green Growth, Smart Growth’: Q&A with Ralf Fücks

9781783084739_hi-resRalf Fücks’ Green Growth, Smart Growth, with a foreword by Anthony Giddens, is released today in English. Green Growth, Smart Growth draws on the German policy experience of tackling climate change and outlines a positive way forward using science, technology and democracy. Fücks is the current president of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and he has written widely on environment policy and political economy. In this brief Q&A, Fücks shares his thoughts on achieving ‘green growth’.

In the introduction to Green Growth, Smart Growth, you talk about how ‘the growth debate is experiencing a renaissance’. What do you think is mainly responsible for this renaissance?

There’s a mix of different motives and considerations at play. First, there is a sense of alarm that the current growth model is driving us into environmental disaster. The basic belief—that economic growth will lead to rising living standards and well being of the broad majority of people—is eroding. In fact, in most western societies, a small minority at the top of the social ladder monopolize the benefits of growth. Last but not least, young academics feel disaffected by the commandments of ‘turbocapitalism’: ever increasing performance demands, high speed, total flexibility, etc.

4069341120_7eddee80dd_bWhat are the main obstacles to achieving ‘green growth, smart growth’?

Basically, the concept of ‘green growth’ is cast into question by powerful players in politics and business, and, ironically, by the environmental community. For them, sustainability and growth are mutually exclusive. Therefore, they either go for growth regardless of the environmental consequences, or they oppose economic growth in the sake of the planet. So we have to convince all three of them—policy makers, business people and green activists—that you don’t have to choose between economic prosperity and a healthy environment. In addition to that, there are of course powerful vested interests involved, especially ‘Big Coal’ and ‘Big Oil’, who see their business model at risk. Like every revolution, the green industrial revolution is about structural change, and the profiteers from the status quo are trying to defend their special interests.

In the book, you list the key elements of the approaching Green revolution which include ‘a revolution in efficiency’, ‘zero waste, zero emissions’, ‘agricultural greening’ and ‘sustainable mobility’. What can the average person do in order to support these efforts?

Of course every one of us should and can be an agent for change. We can change our eating habits, replace our private cars with public transport, biking and car2go, and watch out for environment-friendly products. But I won’t shift all the responsibility to the private individual. Policy and technical innovation matter even more.

Did your position as Green Party politician influence how you wrote Green Growth, Smart Growth?

The main experience that influenced the way I think is the global perspective I gained from joining the Heinrich Böll Foundation—a green think tank and international policy network—almost twenty years ago. We’re active in around about 60 countries around the globe and we work not only with partners from civil society, think tanks, environmental activists, but also with protagonists from politics and the business community. From the sum of these experiences, I perhaps got a sharper sense of global challenges we’re facing as well as grasped the possibilities for a solution. I’m worried, but I’m not pessimistic. ‘Yes we can!’—this is the message I want to convey with my book.

Green Growth, Smart Growth is out now. 

Visit the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s site for additional thoughts from Ralf Fücks. 

Security and Anxiety in News Consumption

9781783084067 3It was a humid Monday evening in early June 2009 when I visited my informant Amparo at her home in Park 7. It was my first time visiting her house, as our previous chats were held in the more easily accessible basketball court, which functions as a makeshift town plaza where neighbours meet and gossip. I was a few minutes late for our scheduled TV Patrol viewing; I had lost a half hour going back and forth narrow, serpentine alleys looking for Malunggay Street, stopping every so often for directions. When I arrived, Amparo, a lively, confident woman approaching her forties, was quick to say, ‘Oh! Come in, come in! You might miss the latest!’ As Amparo helped me up the wooden ladder to her home, I had to blink my eyes a few times to help adjust from the dim outdoors to what was unmistakably the bright white glow from the television in the centre of her home. We sat on the floor and started watching the news.

Amparo’s melodramatic approach to her life is in a way mirrored by her affective consumption of the news.

That evening in June, there was a news report about the first week of classes and conflicts between government and local state schools. The story discussed how elementary school principals were rejecting pupils because their classrooms were already packed with ninety students each. Interviews with officials were interspersed with images of small classrooms, children elbow-to-elbow sharing textbooks and tearful mothers making appeals for help. A few seconds of the report were devoted to a five-year-old boy standing and sobbing in a corner; the journalist explained that the boy was frustrated that he had nowhere to sit in the overcrowded classroom. Footage of the teacher determinedly lecturing inside a cramped, chaotic room closed the story.

After this, Amparo turned to me, her eyes blinking, as if holding back tears, ‘I just feel sad for that boy. I just remembered my childhood [...] I remember how I told myself that I would not allow that to happen to my daughter.’ As other news clips played, Amparo continued talking about this report and her personal disappointment with not making it past fifth grade. I tried to console her, ‘It’s okay, it’s okay.’ She said, ‘Yes. I know it will be okay. In fact, when I watch the news, I gain inner strength (lumalakas ang loob). I will not let that happen to my family, I say. And I remember I am so blessed by God that our family is complete, that we have food to eat.’ She cited the previous week’s news about a capsized passenger boat where several children had perished. When she watched that, and other stories of that kind, she said that she realized how ‘lucky’ she actually was, how their family was ‘still blessed by God’.

The logo of TV Patrol in the Philippines

The logo of TV Patrol in the Philippines

Amparo’s melodramatic approach to her life is in a way mirrored by her affective consumption of the news. Just as we saw viewers of Wowowee gain a sense of hope and security by comparing their personal situations with the more pitiful plights of others, Amparo and other lower-class respondents draw resources for coping from the news. They reflect on how the conditions of people featured in individual news clips might compare to their own. As mentioned earlier, local conventions of ‘personalizing’ public issues through the perspective of the poor encourage viewer identification. Local news conventions of portraying ‘private’ scenes of mourning (i.e., especially of family members of the victims covered by news stories) and depicting graphic images of accidents and disaster, whilst heavily criticized by cultural elites such as Carlos Celdran (in Santiago 2009), provoke emotional responses of compassion and indignation from lower-class audiences. [1]

Just as lower-class respondents engaged with contestants in Wowowee and found resonances with sufferers’ life stories, the news likewise becomes a similar occasion for damay (sympathy/mourning), whereby feelings of sorrow, (self-)pity, blessedness and enduring hope are expressed. News is retold not only as discrete events or isolated stories, but also in referential and personal ways, where individual victims of tragedy stand in for many other poor people like themselves. Though previous studies have also uncovered how populist news helps people ‘cope with their lives’, here it is less about the news being an ‘endless source of laughs’ than news engendering among viewers thoughtful reflections and comparisons between grave and graver realities of suffering. [2]

Contrary to studies of compassion fatigue that argue that the news fosters feelings of helplessness among audiences, I observe that viewers can actually derive a sense of personal agency for themselves from being made aware of others’ experiences of suffering.

From my lower-class interviews, I found little evidence of textbook ‘compassion fatigue’, if we are to understand it as avoidance of televised suffering or desensitization to repeated images of suffering. [3] Whilst there is indeed repetition – what with the natural disasters and deaths depicted on a daily basis – this repetition is experienced by the lower class as a continuation of a larger story of suffering that unites them with an imagined moral community with other poor sufferers. Whilst there is a sense that the ‘story is the same’ (that life is still hard) and ‘only faces change’ (that new characters are substituted for timeless roles of villains or victims), their story of ‘patient endurance’ (pagdaos; pagtitiis) in the face of suffering continues. Contrary to studies of compassion fatigue that argue that the news fosters feelings of helplessness among audiences, I observe that viewers can actually derive a sense of personal agency for themselves from being made aware of others’ experiences of suffering. [4]

Additionally, lower-class audiences provide the occasional judgment that sufferers in the news are undeserving of either news visibility or significant attention from audiences. This judgment is given when they assess that the news subject’s condition is less grave than their own, more ‘authentic’ condition of suffering. An important idea here is that, similar to their expectations of Wowowee producers, they expect news editors and journalists to prioritize ‘authentic’ sufferers who are truly deserving of news visibility, particularly the suffering Filipino poor. I remember here the forty-two year-old laundrywoman Elsa, who criticized a news report about a fire that ravaged a middle-class subdivision; ‘surely,’ she said, ‘there could have been graver events’ covered by the news.

11d5d76b-d7d9-499f-a92f-25b6f7f950a3Jonathan Corpus Ong’s new book The Poverty of Television: The Meditation of Suffering in Class-Divided Philippines is out today. Ong is a lecturer in the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Leicester, and he is currently Co-Investigator to the ESRC-funded Humanitarian Technologies Project, an 18-month ethnography on the uses of communication technologies in disaster recovery in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

[1] ‘The Good, the Sad, the Ugly’, Radikal Chick [website]. Available at (accessed 10 December 2010).

[2] Bird, For Enquiring Minds: A Culture Study of Supermarket Tabloids, pp. 204-5

[3] Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering, pp. 190-1

[4] Höijer, ‘The Discourse of Global Compassion: The Audience and Media Reporting of Human Suffering’, Media Culture & Society 26 (2004), p. 523.

BBC’s India’s Daughter and the Shock to Collective Consciousness

India's Daughter

On International Women’s Day last Sunday, BBC4 broadcasted India’s Daughter, a documentary focused on the December 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in Delhi. India’s Daughter, by British director Leslee Udwin, explores the murder of Jyoti Singh, a medical student who was assaulted by six men on a privately-run bus and died thirteen days later of her injuries. Singh had hoped to open a hospital in her village and on the day of her attack, she had completed final exams. India has banned showings of the documentary, and according to Guardian, India’s parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu deemed the film “an international conspiracy to defame India”. In 2013 when she delivered her sentence against the four adults tried in the case, Judge Yogesh Khanna stated that the case “shocked the collective conscience” of India and sentenced the men to death by hanging. To learn more about this concept collective consciousness in the criminal justice system, read the study Émile Durkheim and the Collective Consciousness of Society, written by Ken Smith and recently published by Anthem Press