Thursday, February 13, 2014

Paul Giles's "Antipodean America"

Paul Giles is Professor and Challis Chair of English at the University of Sydney. He is the author of several books, including The Global Remapping of American Literature, Atlantic Republic: The American Tradition in English Literature, and Virtual Americas: Transnational Fictions and the Transatlantic Imaginary.

Giles applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Antipodean America: Australasia, Colonialism, and the Constitution of U.S. Literature, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Antipodean America addresses Charles Brockden Brown’s concern to situate early American literature within the shadow of the British Empire, rather than endorsing Thomas Jefferson’s mantra that there should be an “ocean of fire” between America and Europe. In this sense, Brown’s geographical consciousness was highly aware of ways in which the Pacific was becoming a contested, politicized space even as it was being opened up through new voyages of discovery. Brown positions Wieland and his other works of fiction between the new republic of America and the old colonial interests of Europe, and for him the spectre of New Holland, as he called Australia, operated effectively as a reflexive mirror in relation to America, the kind of country the United States might have become if it had not declared independence from Britain. To quote from page 99: “Geography thus becomes a way for Brown to reconceptualise the United States within larger epistemological perspectives, to build displacement into its mode of representation, so that ghostly doppelgangers of America paradoxically become a constitutional part of US national identity.” The more general point here, one addressed repeatedly throughout the book, is how Australia is represented in the American consciousness as its shadow self, its repressed colonial other, something we see in a wide variety of American authors from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson through to Emily Dickinson, Henry Adams and Mark Twain and then on into the twentieth century. Although American literature is generally considered as having little contact with or interest in Australasia, this book suggests there is a deep structural engagement at all levels, since the terms of American independence, both political and cultural, could be defined only through a deliberate and systematic inversion of British colonial interests as they were disseminated across the globe. This triangular relationship among Britain, the United States and Australia sometimes appears as more playful than competitive, but its all-pervasive nature testifies to the planetary dimensions of both American and Australian literature.
Learn more about Antipodean America at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Global Remapping of American Literature.

--Marshal Zeringue