A Look Back in Doubt. “Confessions of a Heretic”: Multicultural Literature in Australia

Manfred Jurgensen


It is argued that the emergence of ‘multiculturalism’ in Australia during the Nineteen-eighties was almost entirely determined by political considerations. An application of the concept to literary culture was not anticipated. Nor was there a discourse of migrant or ethnic literature before post-war immigration.

As part of the Australia Council’s decision to sponsor a literary culture of ‘New Australians’ it encouraged the creation of a journal for multicultural literature, Outrider. This article is an attempt to characterise a group of perceived ‚multicultural writers’ by raising doubt about their real or assumed status. It is true they employ highly individual creative imagination and variations of literary style by questioning the nature of migration (often without being migrants themselves). However, such writing is hardly unique to inherent characteristics of   ‚multicultural aesthetics’. Formally and thematically these authors’ language frequently employs a wide range of elective affinities, alienation techniques or correlative analogies. They can hardly be considered ‚minority writers’ of limited literary genius. In truth they are creators of sophisticated poetry and prose by overcoming (or ‘integrating’) foreign language restriction.  To them migration is not merely a subject or theme: it is a consciousness manifesting itself in literary form and style. The best ‘migrant writing’ invokes dimensions of alienation shared by a readership whose cultural dislocation is not confined to refugees, asylum-seekers or social outcasts. In the contemporary global end game, migration has become a shared state of mind.

A brilliant and complex linguistic approach to ‘multicultural writing’ has been argued by Australian sociolinguist Paul Carter. He rejects the negative view of immigration as a form of displacement. Applying his well-balanced analysis of “migrant aesthetic” dialogue promises not only “a new kind of history”. In the end it means refining a new, distinctively migrant poetics.


Ethnic literature; Migration; Multiculturalism; Paul Carter; Post-colonial collage; Migrant Aesthetic; Mainstream literary culture

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1344/co20192612-32


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