Faculty of Arts guide to MWF21: part two

Melbourne Writers Festival is proud to partner with the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne. In an expert guide to the MWF21 program, academics from the faculty have put together their top picks to inspire research, discussion and debate.

Associate Professor Jacqueline Dutton

Head of Languages and Convenor of French Studies, School of Languages and Linguistics

The evocative theme for MWF21 is perfectly enacted across three festival picks that appeal to my research and reading interests in travel writing, translingualism and speculative narratives.

After devouring Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy, which I read as a new feminist form of travel writing, I’m interested to hear more about her latest novel Second Place. Her icy observations on fraught relations between a male guest and female host open up myriad possibilities for a fascinating conversation about psychology, gender and place-based drama.

I’m really looking forward to Jhumpa Lahiri’s session on her self-translated novel Whereabouts, originally written in Italian. The translingual talent of this author is astonishing, even daunting. I’m sure Emma Alberici will draw out the interwoven threads of Italian, English and trans-italo-english expression, as well as the multiple cultural influences in her creative practice.

Perhaps it’s strange to select these virtual sessions when face-to-face festivals are such rare jewels these days, but my third pick is resolutely live, direct, interactive—and so necessary now. I really want to sit down for a couple of hours with Claire G Coleman and other aspiring world-builders and learn How to Write Speculative Fiction. I strongly believe in the genre’s power as a force of change, and that Indigenous futurity has a principal role to play in it. Terra Nullius is such a brilliant novel of historical invention and intervention—what I would call a critical dystopia. I can’t think of a better person to guide a workshop about thinking and writing a better world into being.

Professor Vedi Hadiz

Director and Professor of Asian Studies, Asia Institute, and Assistant Deputy Vice-Chancellor International, the University of Melbourne

Tampa: 20 Years On highlights that the refugee problem will not go away in the broader region no matter how the Australian government has managed to ‘stop the boats’ for now. Political repression and violence, social and economic dislocation, environmental destruction, climate change and other factors will ensure that there will be more, not fewer, refugees that the world, the region, and Australia must collectively deal with. Placing refugees in what are basically internment camps where human rights are absent cannot be a long-term solution in a civilised world.

I look forward to hearing from Mehreen Faruqi on her book, Too Migrant, Too Muslim, Too Loud. Maintaining social cohesion in an inevitably more multicultural society will continue to pose challenges to Australian government and society. Some of the recent debates about such challenges have been focussed on Australia’s growing Muslim community, notwithstanding the justification. An inclusive society where Muslims can feel a strong sense of belonging and capacity to participate in our parliamentary system is particularly important given their growing aspirations.

Dr Norman Swan’s Fortress Australia is clearly relevant given that COVID-19 seems to have reinforced a sort of pre-existing mentality within significant sections of the Australian population, as seen in changing immigration policy and steady reductions in the Australian foreign aid budget. At the same time, Australia cannot afford to be insular and therefore disengaged from the broader region. If anything, the pandemic has shown that Australia may be an island, but its security and welfare cannot be separated from that of the rest of the world.

Associate Professor Jacqueline Dutton is Head of Languages and Convenor of French Studies in the School of Languages and Linguistics. She is a leading researcher and writer on French culture and identity, specialising in literature, food, wine, travel, and utopia as intercultural products of regional, national, and international geopolitics.

Professor Vedi Hadiz is Director and Professor of Asian Studies at the Asia Institute and an Assistant Deputy Vice-Chancellor International at the University of Melbourne. An Indonesian national, he was an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in 2010-2014. His research interests revolve around political sociology and political economy issues, especially those related to the contradictions of development in Indonesia and Southeast Asia more broadly, and more recently, in the Middle East.

Image: Mehreen Faruqi by Bree Bain