Literature, globalization and the digital: challenges for subject English in Australia

Year: 2016

Author: Beavis, Catherine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In Australia, the nature and place of Literature in Education closely followed, and was shaped by, the ways English as a curriculum subject evolved in 19th Century England. Literature, and literary education, was seen as central to the formation of cultural allegiances and identity, and the inculcation of specific values, orientations and subjectivities. As elsewhere, Literature was explicitly harnessed and worked as an agent of Empire, while at the same envisaged as a vehicle for the spreading ‘sweetness and light’, to use Arnold’s phrase, and as such, a means to providing for personal morality and social harmony through exposure to ‘the best that has been though and said. In this, the word, particularly the written word and its affordances, was central. Literature by definition has been traditionally been regarded as logocentric - ‘written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting merit’ (Oxford Dictionary); ‘written artistic works, especially those with a high and lasting artistic value’ (Cambridge Dictionary). Yet what constitutes literature itself is a shifting, fluid concept, as new forms and modalities and the changing nature of texts in the digital age challenge and expand possibilities, with debates about the place of multimodal literacies, affordances and aesthetics. This chapter looks across text selection policies and arguments across 50 years in Australia, and charts the increasing interest in including visual and multimodal texts as set texts in the English and Literature curriculum, and in the selection and use of texts as a means of endorsing or destabilizing notions of literature as embodying and/or inculcating values of citizenship and notions of cultural identity. Focusing on papers published in the journal of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, English in Australia, and the texts set across Australia at senior levels for the same period, as represented in the ALIAS database developed by Dolin, Yiannakis and Wong, this chapter looks at the use of literature to promote changing iterations of cultural identity in Australia during this period, to provide a context for critique, and the opening up of text selection policies and practices to incorporate non-print forms. In the context of globalization where nationalistic iterations of identity are both intensified and dissolved, and communicative and aesthetic forms extend well beyond the word, this chapter looks at how Australian curriculum, policy and practice has responded to such challenges, and the ways in which literary texts of multiple kinds are used within English, and to what ends.