Semiotics in Australia

  • Anne Freadman
  • Meaghan Morris
Part of the Topics in Contemporary Semiotics book series (TICSE)


Early in February 1981 the first conference in Australia to have the word “semiotics” in its (sub)title was held in the grounds of the University of Sydney. This event should not be taken as “progress,” the “arrival” of semiotics in Australia, or the arrival of Australia on the semiotics map; for it is none of these. Just how to take it is the question to which we shall address ourselves: it is our opinion that the conference title, “Foreign Bodies: Semiotics in/and Australia,” is, in a number of ways, symptomatic of “semiotics in Australia.” It is emphatically not representative of work being done as semiotics in Australia, of which there is precious little. We shall use it to pivot part of our discussion.


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  1. 2.
    We received no answer to our questionnaire from Murdoch by the time of writing (February 1981). The reader must understand that the immense distances involved—especially between the east and west coasts of the continent— make effective communication quite difficult. The handbooks of Murdoch University are of course available in Sydney. But these provide mere lists of course titles, not detailed accounts of content and method. As our method required a text for analysis these were insufficient for our purposes and were not included. However this situation has now been rectified (September 1982). The Murdoch information appears in extenso in Appendix D.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    The full conference program was: Paul Foss, “Theatrum Mun-dum Cognitorum, or the Limbo of the Castaways—Terry Blake, on matters foreign—Peter Costa, paper, “The Kuranda Shooting,” and presentation of video made by Barry Melville and Cathy Beitz—Terry Counihan, “Practical Criticism: Law and Reflection—Peter Botsman, “From Deserts Structuralists Came: A Reading of John Lechte’s Politics and the Writing of Australian History”—John Forbes, on Australian poetry—Anne Freadman and Meaghan Morris, “Import Rhetoric: ‘Semiotics in/and Australia’ “—Ted Colless, “The Lost Wave: Semiotics and Cultural Vanguardism”—Video: on types of feminist politics/discourse indicative of films made in the last few years in Australia—Jeff Minson, “The Assertion of Homosexuality: Problems of Personal Politics”— Tom O’Regan, “K. S. Pritchard: The Construction of a Literary Political Subject”—Tony Thwaites, “Speaking of Prowlers: Patrick White and Teaching Literature”—Tom O’Regan, Video: “Monday Conference (The Last Tasmaniana—George Alexander, “Aus-land” a pirate radio play.”Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    “T & M”: the Department of Traditional and Modern Philosophy, led by Professor Armstrong, was the second philosophy department formed when the women’s strike split the former single Department of Philosophy. Professor Armstrong had opposed the women’s studies course, and some years earlier had opposed the teaching of options in Marxism.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Random Issue, No. 2 (June 1980), p. 11.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Useful information about the early history of these two French departments can be found in Margaret Kerr, “Two Approaches to the Teaching of French Literature—G. G. Nicholson in Sydney and A. R. Chisholm in Melbourne,” Australian Journal of French Studies 12(2), 1975, pp. 241–258. The most significant influence in French literary studies during the 1960s and the early 1970s was Ross Chambers, who can properly be said to have made literary semiotics happen in Sydney. His name does not appear in our list since he left Australia to teach in the United States in 1975. Information regarding the Brennan-Mallarmé-Chisholm nexus can be found in Meanjin Quarterly 29(esp. No. 3), 1970, in which there are published a number of articles for the Brennan centenary. There are also articles on Chisholm in previous volumes of the same journal. Cf. also Wallace Kirsop, “Brennan as Exegete. Some Documents from the Mallarmé Corpus,” AJFS 16(Part II), Studies in Honour of R. F. Jackson, 1979, pp. 223–243.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Traces of the upheaval caused can be read in Nation, No. 177 (September 4, 1965) pp. 11–12 (see also the letters column in the following number) and in Current Affairs Bulletin (June 1965). An account of more general problems in this connection can be found in Stephen Knight, “The Hidden Methodology of English Studies,” Random Issue No. 1, (Oct. 1979), pp. 12–34.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Cf. John Docker, “University Teaching of Australian Literature,” New Literature Review (McAuley College, Qld.), No. 6 (1980), pp. 3–7 and idem, “The Politics of Criticism: Leon Cantrell and the Gloom Thesis,” ibid., pp. 20–33. Docker shows in these articles how the “textual immanence” position in the English departments becomes a question of content, and is not assimilable in any way to the Chisholm method described above.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Andrew Bouris et al., “Depositions,” Random Issue, No. 1 (1980), p. 9.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    Cf. Stephen Knight, “The Hidden Methodology of English Studies.”Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anne Freadman
    • 1
  • Meaghan Morris
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of FrenchUniversity of QueenslandQueenslandAustralia
  2. 2.NewtownAustralia

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