Processing Fictocriticism

reviewed by Rosslyn Prosser



the space between: Australian Women Writing Fictocriticism
Heather Kerr and Amanda Nettlebeck (eds)
Nedlands W.A.: University of Western Australia Press, 1998


Literature is processed, a salami sausage, and packaged. Writing and writing about writing seem very far apart.

Ania Walwicz - "Look at me, Ma - I'm going to be a Marginal Writer"

Writing in Text (Vol.1 No 2 October) in 1997 Anna Gibbs stated "There's a strange forgetfulness around the term fictocriticism as it's used in Australia now - for fictocriticism made its appearance here in the writing (mostly non-academic) of women very well aware of those strange, exciting and provocative texts emanating first of all from France and then later from Canada from the late seventies onward".

In "Notes towards an Introduction" Amanda Nettlebeck outlines the conditions of possibility for, and ways of thinking about fictocriticism. She discusses the gendered nature of the selection of writers for this collection demonstrating the continuum with Anna Gibbs' point. However, it is the "Notes on Contributors" which reveals a shift from the mostly non-academic women. In this collection most of the twenty two contributors "teach" or are associated with academic institutions. This shift may be demonstrating the concern with the critical as a place to work from, along with the shifting nature of the academic as author. In some of the of the pieces this is worked out through the use of the autobiographical "I".

As a useful work in itself the "Notes towards an Introduction" provide rules of engagement with the works here and fictocriticism generally. It is possible to see the effects of the uses of a particular group of theorists and theories in Australia.

The rules of engagement noted by Amanda Nettlebeck are helpful in thinking about the contents of this text. They are "self reflexivity, the fragment, intertextuality, the bending of narrative boundaries, crossing of genres, the capacity to adapt literary forms, hybridized writing, moving between fiction (invention/speculation) and criticism (deduction/explication) of subjectivity (interiority) and objectivity (exteriority)".

With these rules in mind the collection displays a range of techniques at work. Anna Gibbs uses the cut-up as a technique to produce another (newer) text and in her Afterword discusses the process and the effects produced, generating a discussion of writer/cut-up/reader relations. Brenda Walker places an anecdote about birth and the vernix mask against a critical piece about women's writing. Working through a range of texts to discuss metaphors for writing, writing with the mask and writing with the body. The piece works well with Nettlebeck's introductory notes as a way of thinking through the theoretical background to fictocriticism.

It's relevant to the project of fictocriticism that intertextuality is working here within and between the writings collected. The image of typewriter overboard in Robyn Ferrell's piece is a fitting end to a discussion of "writing like a woman - writing like a man". Whilst for some of the writers it is the insertion of the autobiographical "I" that allows an acknowledgement within the text of the authorial/academic position, it is the construction of a different self in Dr Zeo by Dr Zoe. Dr Zeo calls on Dr Zoe's knowledges of the cyber, the techno and the sexual/textual to make a new dictionary. The "A-Z of Technosex".

Demonstrating that theory comes in handy when talking about new space. This is amusing work with the joy stick spinning an inter-generic fantasy.

Fictocriticism is developing ways of knowing, demonstrated in works here that consider place and identity as subject to historical shifts and meaning changes. Deane Fergie negotiates her position as anthropologist and the problematic of naming in Australia. She argues with the proposition that "autobiography within anthropology is regarded by some anthropologists as mere narcissism". The interrogation of Australia is carried out in many pieces and situates the text as a whole in relation to writing which is peculiar to this place - Australia.

Also with contributions from Ania Walwicz, Noelle Janaczewska, Gail Jones, Meaghan Morris, Gabrielle O'Ryan, Susan Ash, Alison Bartlett, Sue Gillett, Kerryn Goldsworthy, Lucy Dougan, Anne Brewster, Marion Campbell, Cath Kenneally, Linda Marie Walker, Alison Georgeson, Lyn McRedden, and Lucy Sussex, this collection is successful in its range and situatedness.

The editors have included a guide to "Reading across the Collection". The three sections are "Language and Representation", "Cultural Interiors", and "Performing Sexualities/Identities". The text is categorised firstly as "Criticism - 20th century". As a directive to reading for particular theoretical/writing positions this ensures the works reception in particular fields.


Rosslyn Prosser is studying for her PhD in the Deptartment of Social Inquiry at the University of Adelaide.


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Vol 3 No 1 April 1999
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady