The term Grunge literature, for the purposes of this lecture, refers to a group of Australian writings that were published between the early and mid 90s. This period starts with Andrew McGahan's Praise and ends around the time Christos Tsiolkas's Loaded was eventually removed from the shelves for the first time -- but before it was put back on the shelves in the wake of the movie, Head-On.Head-On
Clare Mendes Edward Berridge Neil Boyack Justine Ettler Leonie Stephens
It began in 1992 with a quirky book about half-hearted ugly people who did drugs and had a lot of sex. It finished in late 1996 after the publication of a frenetic book about a handsome Greek-Australian homosexual who did drugs and had a lot of sex. In between there were a dozen books and a number of stories and poems published which were largely about people who did drugs and had a lot of sex.
In 1996 Ian Syson wrote an article in overland 'Smells Like Market Spirit', where he suggested that: “Grunge's time was almost over; it was a spent force; it had gone about as far as the marketeers could push it”. A number of reviews and articles were starting to develop an increasingly cynical tone about the whole Grunge process.
Since 1996 we have seen few if any Australian novels marketed implicitly or explicitly as Grunge writing. However, the term post- Grunge is one that has come to prominence. In the late 90s there were a bunch of anthologies and novels that seemed to have been inspired by Grunge but came very much after its high point.
Patricia Cornelius's My Sister Jill (2003) is just as emotionally and physically tough as those books produced in the early 90s. McGahan's work has gained a softer focus and has matured somewhat but he still deals with tough issues. And Christos Tsiolkas has of course kept up his confronting style: Who's Afraid of the Working Class Jesus Man, his novel published in 1999. In it one of the main characters commits suicide by cutting off his own penis. Dead Caucasians Dead Europe The Slap
Rawness Vulgarity Explicit Spare or ‘dirty’ realism “in your face”
Grunge was a literature of anger and protest that came from younger writers alienated by mainstream publishing tendencies. Grunge was also a label generated by critics and publishing companies to publicise and give a certain kind of credibility to an emerging trend in Australian writing. Paradoxically, a form of writing captured by mainstream publishing.
Naturalism Social realism Kitchen sink drama and the angry young men in Britain American realists like Henry Miller and Raymond Carver Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac Dirty realism Neo-realism
The New Writing In the late 1960s and early 1970s a new phase of Australian writing seemed to begin. Peter Carey, Michael Wilding and their cohort represented a new perhaps even revolutionary phase of writing in Australia at the levels of both Form and Content
Peter Carey, Michael Wilding, Frank Moorhouse, Vicki Viidikas, and Helen Garner, wrote stories and novels which shared a lot of the thematic characteristics of '90s Grunge. drugs sex alienation ennui – weariness, discontent, boredom generational conflict Often influenced by new writing from America, they were responding to what they saw as a staid and boring realist tradition which very rarely explored beyond the edge of the ordinary. What Patrick White had referred to as "journalistic dun-coloured realism".
However, the New Writing was a school of writing that, according to Michael Wilding, quickly lost the sense of radicalism that spawned it. It too easily became a protest literature which was merely protesting about the right to say fuck on the page, leaving behind a long developed sense in Australian writing of its strong relationship with the struggles and lives of ordinary Australians.
As Mark Davis has pointed out in Gangland, the past 40 years is a period in which the generation which took control of Australian cultural production in the 1970s became conservative and cemented their places in the arts world. People who had to fight to be heard in the first place erected barriers like the ones they had demolished in order to preserve their newly obtained kingdoms. They sewed up the public sphere for their own ends.
Writers like McGahan, Ettler, Berridge, Tsiolkas, Boyack were indeed shut out of the loop. When Grunge emerged in mainstream publishing, the texts were understood as a form of revolt. Like the New Writers before them, they wanted to talk about sex, drugs, music and alienation. Interestingly, this revolt usually meant, on the formal level, a return to the realism rejected over twenty years before.
What has come after Grunge? What have been its effects and influences? Is there still evidence of this kind of writing today? ABR
Kalinda Ashton's novel The Danger Game was conceived in this post-Grunge period. Ashton, born in 1978, is one of a new group of young Australian writers who have come through the creative writing system flourishing in the universities. As such she has been influenced by the writing of the nineties and is particularly influenced by Christos Tsiolkas -- as are a lot of young writers.
Tsiolkas has led the charge in a number of areas: representing the urban representing the edge migration sexuality politics history His novel The Slap was recently long-listed for the Man/Booker prize.
What the Grunge writers have done, like so many radical literary movements before them, is to lay bare some social and historical truths. A close examination of recent post-Grunge Australian fiction reveals a serious attention to Australian history on the part of a number of younger writers.