Reading Kim Scott’s <i>That Deadman Dance: Book Clubs and Postcolonial Literary Theory</i>


  • Maggie Nolan Australian Catholic University


Kim Scott, Indigenous Australian Literature, book clubs, reading, identification


This paper explores different readings of Kim Scott’s Miles Franklin award-winning novel That Deadman Dance, which offers a complex portrayal of cross-cultural contact on the so-called ‘Friendly Frontier’ of the southern coast of Western Australia in the early to mid-nineteenth century. This article contrasts academic responses to the novel with those of one of the most significant contemporary literary networks: book club readers. It draws upon Derek Attridge’s distinction between literal and allegorical readings, and Diana Fuss’s work on identification, to explore the extent to which different readers respond to the novel as an unfamiliar literary work in the context of literary sociability. I suggest that book club readings, in their tentative and open-ended uncertainty, pose a challenge to the orthodoxies of academic literary studies.

Author Biography

Maggie Nolan, Australian Catholic University

Senior Lecturer in Australian Studies Co-editor, Journal of Australian Studies


Allington, Patrick. 2010. “‘Nothing Personal’ Review of That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott.” Australian Book Review 325:11-12.

Attridge, Derek. 2004a. The Singularity of Literature. Abingdon: Routledge.

Attridge, Derek. 2004b. J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Benwell, Bethan. 2012. “Common-sense Anti-racism in Book Group Talk: The Role of Reported Speech.” Discourse & Society 23 (4): 359-376.

Birns, Nicholas. 2015. “Grab The Whale’s Heart: That Deadman Dance in a Moby-Dick Course.” Unpublished paper delivered at the Modern Language Association convention, Vancouver, British Columbia, January 11.

Boler, Megan. 1997. “The Risks of Empathy: Interrogating Multiculturalism’s Gaze.” Cultural Studies 11 (2): 253-73.

Bondi, Liz. 2003. “Empathy and Identification: Conceptual Resources for Feminist Fieldwork.” ACME: An International e-journal for Critical Geographies 2 (1): 64-76.

Brewster, Anne. 2011 “Whiteness and Indigenous Sovereignty in Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance.” Journal of the European Association of Studies on Australia 2 (2): 60-71.

Carter, David. 1992. “Tasteless Subjects: Postcolonial Literary Criticism, Realism and the Subject of Taste.” Southern Review 25 (3): 292-303.

Carter, David. 2007. “After Postcolonialism.” Meanjin 66 (2): 114-119.

Carter, David. 2009. “Colonial Modernity and Print Culture Studies: Books and Readers in Australian Society” Pacific and American Studies 9 (March): 63-82.

Carter, David. 2011. “Modernity and the Gendering of Middlebrow Book Culture in Australia.” In The Masculine Middlebrow, 1880-1950: What Mr.Miniver Read, edited by Kate Macdonald, 135-149. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Clarke, Robert and Marguerite Nolan. 2014. “Book Clubs and Reconciliation: A Pilot Study on Book Clubs Reading the Fictions of Reconciliation.” Australian Humanities Review 56(May): 121-140.

Davis, Kimberly Chabot. 2004. “Oprah’s Book Club and the Politics of Cross-Racial Empathy.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 7 (4): 399-419.

Davis, Kimberly Chabot. 2008. “White Book Clubs and African American Literature: the Promise and Limitations of Cross-Racial Empathy.” LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory 19 (2):155–186.

Devlin-Glass, Frances. 2001. “More than a Reader and Less than a Critic: Literary Authority and Women's Book Discussion Groups.” Women's Studies International Forum 24 (5):571–85.

Diamond, Elin. 1993. “Rethinking Identification: Kennedy, Freud, Brecht.” Kenyon Review 15 (2): 86-99.

Fuss, Diana. 1995. Identification Papers. New York: Routledge.

Hartley, Jenny. 2002. The Reading Groups Book. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

hooks, bell. 1992. “Eating the Other.” Chap. 2 in Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press.

Howie, Linsey. 2011. “Speaking Subjects: Developing Identities in Women's Reading Communities.” In Reading Communities: from Salons to Cyberspace, edited by D. R. Sedo, 140-158.London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hughes-d’Aeth, Tony. 2016. “For a long time nothing happened: Settler Colonialism, deferred action and the scene of colonization in Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance. Journal of Commonwealth Literature 51 (1): 22-34.

Kaufman, Rona. 2004. “‘That, My Dear, Is Called Reading’: Oprah’s Book Club and the Construction of a Readership.” In Reading Sites: Social Difference and Reader Response, edited by Patrocinio Schweickart and Elizabeth A. Flynn, 221-255. New York: Modern Language Association of America.

Kiernan, Anna. “The Growth of Reading Groups as a Feminine Leisure Pursuit: Cultural Democracy or Dumbing Down” In Reading Communities: From Salons to Cyberspace, edited by D.R. Sedo, 123-158. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Long, Elizabeth. 2003. Book Clubs: Women and the Use of Reading in Everyday Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mead, Philip. 2012. “Connectivity, Community and the Question of Literary Universality: Reading Kim Scott’s Chronotope and John Kinsella’s Commedia.” In Republics of Letters: Literary Communities in Australia, edited by Peter Kirkpatrick and Robert Dixon, 137-156. Sydney: Sydney University Press.

Poole, Marilyn. 2003. “The Women's Chapter: Women’s Reading Groups in Victoria.” Feminist Media Studies 3 (3): 263–81.

Procter, James. 2009. “Reading, Taste and Postcolonial Studies.” Interventions 11 (2):180–198.

Procter, James. 2011. “Reading After Empire.” New Formations 73: 5-10

Procter, James and Bethan Benwell. 2014. Reading Across Worlds: Transnational Book Groups and the Reception of Difference. Palgrave Macmillan.

Radway, Janice. 1997. A Feeling for Books: the Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Ravenscroft, Alison. 2013. “The Strangeness of the Dance: Kate Grenville, Rohan Wilson, Inga Clendinnen and Kim Scott.” Meanjin 72 (4): 64-73.

Sedo, DeNel Rehburg(2011). An Introduction to Reading Communities: Processes and Formations. In Reading Communities: From Salons to Cyberspace, edited by D. R. Sedo, 1–24. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Scott, Kim. 2010. That Deadman Dance. Sydney: Picador.

Scott, Kim. 2012. Interview with Anne Brewster. “Can you Anchor a Shimmering Nation State via Regional Indigenous Roots: Kim Scott talks to Anne Brewster about That Deadman Dance.” Cultural Studies Review 18 (1): 228-46.

Sommer, Doris. 1994. “Resistant Texts and Incompetent Readers” Poetics Today 15 (4): 523-551.