Guy Rundle writes:

With news that the US may attack Iran, and that the Chinese economy
might be in meltdown, The Australian took time to devote its precious
editorial space (17/4) to… question one on a private girls
school Year 11 English exam, which asked the ladies to examine the play
Othello from the perspective of the “dreary postmodern trinity” of
race, gender or class issues. The sky is falling! Who let these
postmodernists into the classroom?

Well, erm, actually it was one of the Australian’s leader writers.
Before he took up the cudgels against global communism in the late
1990s, Imre Salusinszky taught English and literary theory, most
recently at Newcastle University – and not just any old literary
theory. Salusinszky was one of the Australian pioneers of the dreaded
deconstruction, having returned to Melbourne University from the US,
where he had sat at the feet of the masters. Melbourne English in the
early 80s was one of the key beachheads for propagating the notion that
any text is simply an intersection of intertextual discourses without
stable meaning, and tending to privilege power-laden terms in binary
oppositions – male/female, white/black, capital/labour etc.

If that sounds like a load of old Foucault to you, you might want to
consult one of the most enthusiastic introductions to the field – Criticism in Society
by I.Salusinszky (Reed, 1987 – new and used copies available on
Amazon for $3.92). The work is a series of interviews in which Marxist
deconstructionists such as Jacques Derrida, Barbara Johnston and Edward
Said show how questions of race, class, gender and then some are
braided through the most innocuous texts.

As Amazon’s useful citation index shows, CiS has not been without influence. Its 40 hits include influence on Doing English: A Guide For Literature Students and Education and Cultural Studies: Towards A Performative Practice,
which would seem to indicate that its enthusiasm for new ways of
reading influenced people writing textbooks and designing curricula.
Certainly Salusinszky’s classes (of which I was a keen attendee) –
the clinically named Literary Studies – imparted the idea that this
was the way to read a text, and anything less was piking it.

I got a B
for an essay on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary in which I suggested
that literary realism might actually describe the world. Wrong,
apparently – realism was an intersection of metaphors. I’m thinking of
asking for a remark. Is it possible that some of my fellow students,
similarly bewitched, went off to become high school English teachers,
and spread the good word?

Of course Salusinszky was a rising young academic then. Now he works
for News Limited so maybe he’s recanted. Let’s hope so. The editorial
said that such teaching presented a danger to Australian society. And
we know what the government does to anti-social East Europeans, don’t
we?

Peter Fray

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