Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
Vol. 4, No. 1, 1990
The Media of Publishing
Edited by Albert Moran

Introduction

Albert Moran

Continuum is a journal devoted in part to investigating Australian media and culture. Past issues have interpreted that brief widely with issues on Australian film in the 1950s, museum and site criticism, and communication and tradition. This present issue examines the Australian print industry - most particularly book publishing. Although some articles explore questions of authorship, text, genre, discourse and historical development, these articles would not be at home in the more conservative literary journals Southerly and Australian Literary Studies. For the articles in this issue engage with those elements typically excluded from literary analysis such as industry, finance, ideology, and policy - in short the institutional context of print. Here the textual is only allowed equal footing with these other concerns. Accordingly, authors have drawn on a range of theoretical insights from political economy, sociology, communication studies and history as well as literary and cultural studies.

If this issue has a specific polemic to make in a 'media' journal it is to emphasise print's enduring significance. Print is one of the oldest forms of communication and continues to underpin and sustain more recent media forms like film and TV. Despite the much vaunted death of print heralded by figures such as McLuhan over 20 years ago, print is far from dead. In 1989 three Sunday newspapers were being published in Melbourne. Both the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age are now national newspapers. The printed word remains highly influential in our society, at least as decisive as the electronic image or broadcast sound.

Articles in this issue deal with three distinct arenas of print culture: journalism, popular generic fiction and general publishing matters.

Denis Cryle deals with issues in the writing of Australian journalism history. For him the press is an institution involving not only internal elements such as proprietors, editors, journalists, newspapers and readers, but also the press's important links to other social institutions such as finance, government and politics. He suggests two fruitful kinds of approach to his subject. The first is that exemplified in Sylvia Lawson's recent study of the Bulletin, The Archibald Paradox, where Lawson reworks the concept of author, to include a figure such as the Bulletin's editor J.F. Archibald. Archibald wrote little or nothing for the Bulletin yet because of his crucial editorial role - choosing writings, soliciting material and editing writer's prose - he was in a sense the journal's 'author'. The other approach to take is one Cryle himself has adopted in his The Colonial Press in Queensland. 2 It is one in which historically bound discourses might be studied across a range of newspapers in a particular period of time. He argues that the specific articulations of these discourses in different newspapers and even in the same newspaper are never homogeneous or unanimous but are contesting articulations of particular views, information and argument.

The second arena, that of popular generic fiction, focuses upon the mass market romance novel. Ann Curthoys and John Docker advance the claims that contemporary popular novels, especially Mills and Boon romance, need to be taken seriously as a literary form. Despite recent studies of the popular romance genre in Janice Radway's Reading the Romance 3 and Carol Thurston's The Romance Revolution, 4 the authors concede that both literary culture and the demands of feminist correctness still damn the genre albeit for different reasons. Curthoys and Docker argue for the pleasure, intelligence and relevance of the genre. Their strategy of legitimation involves a number of arguments and moves. Following Andreas Huyssen, 5 they suggest that in the nineteenth and twentieth century the high literary culture - especially that of modernism - constituted itself and mass literature (and indeed mass culture) along gender lines. Mass literature, especially romance, was represented in terms of emotion, pleasure, sentiment, thrills, identification, escape, familiarity, repetition, routine, accessibility and so on, qualities that were seen to denote the feminine. But, as Curthoys and Docker show, there are highly respected antecedents for the modern romance in ancient Greek romance and in the early nineteenth century especially in the novels of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte which laid the foundations for the modern romance. By way then of sealing some of these arguments Curthoys and Docker discuss a recent Mills and Boon novel, Storm Clouds Gathering (1988), by author Edwina Shaw. They demonstrate in detail how this novel is a fine and intelligent reworking of Austen's novel Persuasion. But Edwina Shaw is an author (the name may be a pseudonym) working in this genre, unknown to the extent that there is no mention of her in the local high literary culture (newspaper reviews, 'serious' articles, fiction prizes and Literature Board fellowships, novels on the curricula in secondary and tertiary education, and so on). Curthoys and Docker invoke her name and the novel because of personal discovery rather than circulation in the invisible college of the serious writing.

Curthoys and Docker mention a second Mills and Boon 'Australian author' Emma Darcy. The second article in this section on popular romance is an interview with that author. The authorial name is a pseudonym for a writing partnership. The interview might be contrasted with the later E.L. Wheelwright interview to highlight the important institutional differences in the writing fields of romance and academic writing. Mills and Boon (and their American house Harlequin) are the dominant force in romance publishing in the world market. The system whereby it solicits from among its own readers new manuscripts is an inexpensive form of cultural research and development. Each year the company receives well over 6,000 manuscripts yet chooses only a fraction of these for publication. Clearly it is a buyer's market (even more so than in general publishing) and authors have to struggle against many things in the publisher-author relationship. The interview explores this area as well as the way that Emma Darcy manages to sustain her writing energy and imagination.

Rita Felski turns to American horror author Stephen King's best selling novel Misery for a vivid demonstration of the clash between the higher literary and the popular romance traditions. Felski sees King's novel as symbolic of male paranoia about popular romance and its female readership. Beginning from the same general position as Curthoys and Docker namely to argue against the downgrading of kitsch and popular culture in the nineteenth and twentieth century - she parts company with Curthoys and Docker over how feminism might best relate to mass culture including popular romance. Felski is wary of commonsense arguments about the pleasure, and relevance of popular culture - a trend especially prevalent in recent ethnographic work on popular culture audiences - she argues against a revisionism that would re-constitute its own forms of Great Tradition from this kind of material. Instead she reminds us of the continuing social and symbolic inequality of the 'feminine' that such revisionism can too quickly forget.

Finally in our third section there is a consideration of general and trade publishing. Although general or trade publishing includes mass market books such as cookery, reference and how-to books, it gains most of its media visibility through its high brow, 'serious' books whether in the area of fiction or non-fiction. The focus in this section is on the serious, high culture end of the business, the end that is often synonymous with book publishing itself (note the way that the best selling book lists that appear in magazines and weekend newspapers ignore such retail book outlets as newsagents and larger mass market bookshops and thus bias their lists in favour of serious fiction and non-fiction).

Richard Nile develops a historical perspective on recent moves to deregulate the book industry arguing that this will do little to shake the dominant position held by British companies in the Australian book industry. His argument is a cultural nationalist one. For Nile, the dominance of British publishers has meant a continuing form of cultural colonisation of the Australian market, even in recent times when there has been an upsurge in local publishing. Nile argues that in the Australian bookselling market indigenous publishers are marginalised and Australian authors and readers are consistently denied the opportunities that would be available under a more flexible and less controlled market.

Glen Lewis continues this argument concentrating on a more particular subject and situation, the social sciences and humanities in Australian tertiary education. He outlines the upsurge in Communication Studies as an academic area of teaching and research since the early 1970s, but notes the paucity of local books that would fuel further work. This is due not only to the structure of the academy but is especially due to the dominant position of British and American companies in the field of tertiary publishing. Unlike potential Australian counterparts, these have international sales outlets that massively underwrite their publications in the field of Communication Studies, so that their Australian branch plants and indigenous publishers stay out of this area. Lewis sees this cultural colonialism perpetuating the situation where regional identity, ethnic values and national history in particular fields of study continue to receive little or no attention.

The interview with E.L. (Ted) Wheelwright is pertinent for several reasons. Wheelwright was Associate Professor in Economics at the University of Sydney and he believed strongly in economic and cultural nationalism. Most of his books were published by small publishing houses, many of these indigenous. Personal networks are one explanation for this history. Equally, it was the case that these local publishers had more than a passing interest in the contemporary economic condition of the Australian and the international economy, a continuing focus of his work. Wheelwright's interview is also of importance in suggesting how publishing can serve an academic author as an alternative publishing outlet to the route of the scholarly journal. As Wheelwright notes, he felt he had more autonomy and control with his book material than he had at the hands of some journal editors. Finally, the interview is a case history serving to introduce the last article by Albert Moran on micro features of Australian publishing houses. Wheelwright mentions several times the general networks that consistently brought him into contact with publishers, a theme that Moran examines in the course of his analysis. Moran's focus is on the external and internal environments of publishing houses. He notes in passing the big/small, international/indigenous distinctions as elaborated by Nile and Lewis but, if anything, Moran sees the commerce/culture distinction as an even more important grid for understanding the activity of publishing houses in the general books area.


Albert Moran, Division of Humanities, Griffith University, Brisbane.


Notes

  1. Sylvia Lawson, The Archibald Paradox (Ringwood: Penguin, 1983).

  2. Denis Cryle, The Colonial Press in Queensland (St Lucia: University of Qld Press, 1989).

  3. Janice Radway, Reading the Romance (University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1984).

  4. Carol Thurston, The Romance Revolution. Erotic Novels for Women and the Quest for a New Sexual Identity (University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1987).

  5. Andreas Huyssen, After the Great Divide. Modernism, Mass Culture and Postmodernism (Macmillan, London, 1986).


New: 20 December, 1995 | Now: 15 March, 2015