The Advancing Wave: Australian Literary Biography Since 1980


  • Brian Kiernan


'Who   left the gate open?' asks Chris Wallace-Crabbe early in his lively chapter on   'Autobiography' in The Penguin New Literary History of Australia (1988), 'How   did autobiography disguise itself? Or were the rules of the game changed for   some clutch of reasons?' He is observing that autobiographies have begun to   receive a great deal more critical consideration, at a time when 'the   construction of all literary canons has become subject to radical   questioning'. Such questioning (not least of the assumed categorical   distinction between 'imaginative' and 'non-fictional' prose) has led to the   admission of autobiography into the class of 'serious literature', even   though the genre he is surveying seems to be a 'parody, or at least a   black-and-white caricature' of other literary genres. For while autobiography   also claims to refer to life, 'it does so a good deal more crassly', thus   raising what he calls 'all those coarse, nagging questions about whether it   is art ... or merely documentation.'