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Fictocriticism at the University of Western Australia

Fictocriticism: Writing the Body 2008. English and Cultural Studies/Women's Studies Honours Seminar.

Convenor: Dr Alison Bartlett

This unit introduces students to a range of theories and practices that connect writing and the body as a form of politics. Theories of the body, subject formation, gender and genre, the politics of location and form, will intersect with broader identity issues of race, sexuality and authority to trouble the distinctions between disembodied, rational thought and ‘the personal’, subjective or creative mode. The unit offers examples that deviate from ‘straight’ academic writing in order to think about how our own subjectivities, histories and experiences inform our writing practices, and how this might be thoughtfully productive. It addresses notions of intellectual generosity as integral to meaningful engagement with the ideas, writing and arguments of others.

Learning outcomes

This unit is designed to engage students in the politics of form by expanding the possibilities of academic writing. By the end of the unit, you are expected to be able to
  • identify some key features/politics of fictocritical writing
  • trace conditions of production of fictocriticism as a genre, in and outside the academy
  • articulate the relations between genre, gender and nation in the authorisation of fictocritical practices
  • apply fictocritical thinking to your own production of written knowledge during Honours

Required texts

  • Margaret Somerville. Body/Landscape Journals. Melb: Spinifex. 1999.
  • Muecke, Stephen. No Road : Bitumen all the way. Fremantle : FACP 1997.
  • Unit Reader


1. Book review exercise 1000-1500 words
Write a book review of Margaret Somerville’s Body/Landscape Journals or Stephen Muecke’s No Road. Your review should be titled, and should indicate which publication you are writing for.

This piece of assessment provides an opportunity to explore the book review genre as a mode of writing which overlaps academic writing in many ways. It remains a piece of assessment, however, so it will need to demonstrate your knowledge of the text and provide a critical analysis of it in keeping with that genre.

Before you procede you should canvass review sites and select one to write for, ensuring that your review is generically appropriate. You should also read published reviews and decide what they are doing, what model you prefer to follow and why. You might also consider how the form/content of the text you are reviewing might affect the possibilities for reviewing.

Some review sites to start with are : The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, Age, Canberra Times, New York Times, New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, Australian Book Review, JAS Review of Books (online), Hecate’s Australian Women’s Book Review (online), and most journals have a review section up the back.

2. Research/fictocritical essay 3000 words
Suggested Topics:

  • In what ways does subjectivity impact on the production of knowledge ?
  • What is fictocriticism ?
  • Is (ficto)criticism gendered ?
  • ‘The body functions as the repressed or disavowed condition of all knowledges’, claims Elizabeth Grosz in Volatile Bodies (20). Discuss this claim and its implications.
  • In what ways have ideas of nation impacted on the production of fictocriticism ?

As this unit is partially concerned with conceptualising the impact of our own embodied histories on the production of knowledge (what and how we research), you are encouraged to use the final assessment to reflect on your honours year/thesis, including the kinds of knowledge you are engaging with and how you write about it. You are encouraged, therefore, to devise your own topic (which should be in the form of an essay title, rather than an essay ‘question’).

Reading schedule

Week 1 - Bodies
  • Gallop, Jane. ‘Thinking Through the Body’ Thinking Through the Body. New York: Columbia UP 1988. 1-9
  • Elizabeth Grosz ‘Refiguring Bodies’ Volatile Bodies. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. 1989. 3-24.
  • Cixous, Helene. ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’ Trans. Keith Cohen & Paula Cohen. Feminisms: an anthology of literary theory and criticism Ed. Robyn R. Warhol and Diane Price Herndl. New Bruswick: Rutgers UP. 1993. 332-349. First pubd Signs 1.4 (1975): 875-893.

Week 2 - Methodologies
  • Waldby, Catherine. ‘Feminism and Method’ Transitions: New Australian Feminisms. Ed. Barbara Caine & Rosemary Pringle. Sydney: Allen & Unwin 1995. 15-28.
  • Bertram, Vicki. ‘Theorising the personal: Using Autobiography in Academic Writing’ Contemporary Feminist Theories. Ed. Stevi Jackson and Jackie Jones. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP. 1998. 232-46.
  • Rich, Adrienne. ‘Notes Towards a Politics of Location’ Blood, Bread and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985. London: Virago. 1986. 210-231.

Week 3 - Subjectivity
  • Miller, Nancy K. ‘Getting Personal: Autobiography as Cultural Criticism’ Getting Personal: Feminist Occasions and Other Autobiographical Acts.New York : Routledge. 1991. 1-30.
  • Jouve, Nicole Ward. ‘Preface: White Woman Speaks with Forked tongue’ and ‘Introduction: Criticism as Autobiography’. White Woman Speaks with Forked Tongue: criticism as autobiography.London: Routledge 1991. vii-ix and 1-13.
  • Anzaldua, Gloria ‘Tlilli, Tlapalli: the path of the red and black ink’ Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.San Francisco : Aunt Lute Books. 1987. 65-75.0

Week 4
  • Body/Landscape Journals, by Margaret Somerville

Week 5
  • No Road: Bitumen All the Way, by Stephen Muecke

Week 6 - Race
  • Ferrell, Robyn. ‘Pinjarra 1970’ Cultural Studies Review9.1 (2003): 23-34.
  • Brewster, Anne. ‘Writing whiteness: the personal turn’ Australian Humanities Review 35 (2005).
  • Jones, Gail. ‘Thaumatropes’ in The Space Between: Australian Women Writing Fictocriticism. Ed. Heather Kerr and Amanda Nettelbeck. Nedlands: UWA Press 1998: 98-114.

Week 7 - Authority
  • Zawacki, Terry Myers. ‘Recomposing as a Woman – an essay in different voices’ College Composition and Communication 43 (1992): 32-38.
  • Mercer, Gina. ‘The Days of Love are Lettered’ Rev. of The Oxford Book of Australian Love Poems, ed. Jennifer Strauss. LiNQ22.1 (1995): 135-40.
  • Thompkins, Jane. ‘Me and My Shadow.’ Feminisms: an anthology of literary theory and criticism Ed. Robyn R. Warhol and Diane Price Herndl. New Bruswick: Rutgers UP. 1993. 1103-16. First pubd New Literary History 19 (1987).

Week 8 - Masculinity
  • Miller, Richard E. ‘The Nervous System’ College English 58.3 (1996): 265-85.
  • Banks, William P. ‘Written through the Body: Disruptions and « personal » Writing.’ College English 66.1 (2003): 21-39.

Week 9 - Australian lineages
  • Muecke Stephen and Noel King. ‘On Ficto-Criticism’ Australian Book Review135 (Oct 1991) : 13-14.
  • Nettelbeck, Amanda. ‘Notes Towards an Introduction’ The Space Between: Australian women writing fictocriticism Nedlands: UWA Press. 1998. 1-17
  • Dawson, Paul. ‘A Place for the Space Between: fictocriticism and the university’ Westerly 47 (2003) : 139-51.

Week 10 - Applications
  • Gibbs Anna ‘Bodies of Words : Feminism and Fictocriticism – explanation and demonstration. TEXT 1.2
  • Gallop, Jane. ‘Econstructing Sisterhood’ Anecdotal Theory Durham: Duke UP 135-54.
  • Wakelin, Donna. 'Frankly Fat : Squashing the Iron Maiden'. Extract from unpublished Hons Thesis, James Cook University. 1994. 1-15.

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