While I remain sceptical of this new nationalism, which I do not think ultimately addresses the unique historical factors that are indirectly affecting publishing, criticism, and literary production more generally, I also wanted to avoid the trap of much academic criticism—often written in abstracted, officious tone—that pretends to have risen above all worldly interests to arrive at the only logical conclusion possible. I was trying to argue for a concept of criticism that is impassioned and opinionated, but still analytical and reflexive.
Given the positions articulated both here and in the article itself, the most head-scratching response to ‘In the Same Boat’ comes from Ali Alizadeh, who, in a post for Southerly, seems to think that I support the nationalist position (I explicitly state my disagreement with the literary nationalists twice in the article). He also seems to think the fact that Cate Kennedy published several books in Australia before being published in The New Yorker refutes my point. But this actually supports my argument: despite a strong local track record of publishing, she only received broader notoriety after international success in The New Yorker. Despite these oddities, I agree with many of Alizadeh’s other arguments, including that literature serves an ideological function; indeed, one of the key points of my article was to argue that certain ‘progressive’, liberal notions of multiculturalism and globalism in Australia paradoxically foster a nationalist ideology (a point that has been made, if in very different terms and contexts, by Ghassan Hage), and that Australian literary production reflects this fact.
The problem with Alizadeh’s argument—and the reason, I think, why he misinterprets my arguments—is that he has completely failed to understand the cultural cringe. Alizadeh seems to think that the cultural cringe cannot exist because he finds ‘the proposal that contemporary Australians may be lacking in national pride rather absurd’. I agree that Australians have national pride (again, I make this point explicitly in my article), but having national pride does not mean that the cringe has been overcome; in point of fact, such nationalism is actually part of the cringe, a point that A.A. Phillips himself makes by terming excessive displays of national pride the ‘cringe inverted’. The cringe is a phenomenon that actually represents the anxiety that Australians feel about their own cultural products in relation to foreign culture. This anxiety can manifest in strange and paradoxical ways, which is precisely what I tried to argue in ‘In the Same Boat’—that the new internationalism in Australian literary production still responds to the same anxieties that motivated the original cringe, even if it manifests in a very different form. Indeed, the fact that so many conversations about the place of Australian literature in relation to global literatures have taken place, regardless of the positions taken by the various interlocutors, seems to me to suggest that the anxieties which have underpinned the various forms of the cringe are very much alive and well.