Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 36, 1992
Postcolonial Fictions:
Proceedings of the SPACLALS Triennial Conference 1992
Edited by Michèle Drouart

PostColonial Grotesques: Re-membering the Body in Louis Nowra's Visions and The Golden Age

Helen Gilbert

Questions of who or what is speaking through the body and in what language, of what discourses are inscribed on/in the body, are clearly questions of power relations. Philip Auslander.

The metaphorizing of the body as a habit of imperialist representation and part of its larger military, medical and pedagogical administration has been both insidious and persuasive throughout Australia's history, but this process always risks recursive dismantlement if those differences which facilitate imperial reductions of the body are also seen to convey an otherness that exceeds textual containment. This paper focuses on representations of the body which traduce the fulsome certainties of imperial history, and I also discuss enactments of verbal language wherever the instrumental trajectories of linguistic and corporeal texts and textures intersect or overlap. Despite the fact that Aboriginal and feminist texts may seem more obvious foci for politicized readings of the (colonized) body, Michael Dash's argument that the body is "an endlessly suggestive sign" through which is mediated tensions between imperial subjectification and postcolonial recuperation - "dis-membering" and "re-membering"1 - holds true for the plays examined here. Like time and space, the body in settler society is subject to multifarious inscriptions which produce a dialogic, ambivalent and unstable signifier rather than a single, independent and discrete entity. As Tiffin maintains, there is not ever a single colonized "body," but rather "an interplay between colonial and postcolonial texts and bodies."2 Our current movement towards cultural decolonization, then, involves not just a verbal/textual counter-discourse but a counter-discourse of the body and its signifying practices. This is particularly important in theatre where the body, brought into focus through performance, becomes an especially charged site of convergence for contesting discourses and, at times, even the vehicle for an incipient expressive language that resists appropriation into dominant linguistic codes.

My discussion of the body centres on Louis Nowra's work not only because his theatre is thoroughly imbued with an insistent corporeality but also because it constantly rehearses variant versions of colonization as a primal scene where the body, like landscape, functions mnemonically. Nowra himself links this interest in the body to a fascination with horror movies which have provided a model for his attempts to "physicalize metaphor" and so appeal to an audience on a visceral level.3 Of the critics who have commented on his penchant for the gothic, only Kelly penetrates its dramatic vitality. Working through Rosemary Jackson's study of fantastic literature, she identifies his characters' "excessive somatic states" and deformed, grotesque and mutilated bodies as "the projections of lost selves" whose energies erupt from the symbolic into the imaginary realm.4 Turcotte also draws on Jackson's theoretical frameworks to explain such hybrid identities but is inclined to suggest that Nowra speaks the formula of abjection through more conventional linguistic discourses.5 A third and somewhat more problematic approach rests on the assumption that the transgressive energies of Nowra's gothicism reside primarily hors de lˆ in an extra-corporeal realm expressed through scenic allusion. Jim Davidson evinces precisely this reading of The Golden Age when he argues that "the whole piece is posited on a gothic view of Tasmania" which ensures that the play's forest people remain "exotics" in a neo-Georgian setting that is troped as the functional other of mainland Australian landscapes.6 While Davidson rightly points out that exoticism risks exciting the voyeuristic gaze, his analysis dismisses the subversive agency of the performing (de-formed and re-formed) body and diminishes the dramatic impact of its alterity.

Nowra's plays abound with a great variety of gothic tropes - the nightmarish figures of Inside the Island (1980) are a case in point - but on the gothic stage, as Mary Beth Inverso reminds us, there are only two roles: victim and tyrant, and although these roles are often exchanged in a dramatic turnaround of events,7 the binary structure of their relationship remains intact. What is likely to be overlooked, therefore, in a purely gothic reading of the body in Nowra's theatre is that insistent sense of comedy and farce, of parody, or carnival irony that even his most shockingly grotesque figures elicit and which often gives them some agency despite their oppressions. An alternative framework, the carnivalesque, foregrounds precisely this element of resistance and seems apposite for postcolonial readings of the body politic that seek to dismantle the hierarchized corpus of imperial culture without simply perpetuating the victim/victimizer cycle. Carnival perspectives, McDougall argues, undermine "the self-determining (im)postures of colonialism by activating that play of difference which is the principle of heterogeneous community."8 Such heterogeneity "sets carnival apart from the merely oppositional and reactive" so that it operates as a "site of insurgency, and not merely withdrawal."9

Since both gothic and carnivalesque identities problematize what Kelly calls the "closed and perfected bodily ego-ideal of Western civilization,"10 I do not wish to implement a rigid distinction between the characteristic corporeal figurations of each genre. Further close parallels between the two traditions are suggested by their common origins in Menippean satire11 and their shared interest in popular culture as a repository of powerful narrative tropes. What emerge as important differences pertain primarily to the tonal ascriptions of each discourse. According to Bakhtin, the folk grotesque which is essential to carnival enacts a "gay relativity" via regenerative laughter associated with images of bodily life presented through parody, caricature, and other comic gestures derived from the mask.12 The romantic grotesque of gothicism, on the other hand, dispenses with the ludic forms of the folk grotesque to create an alien and somewhat terrifying world where laughter loses its cognitive value.

Nowra's most pointed deployments of the carnivalesque as a decolonizing strategy occur in The Golden Age and Visions, both of which anticipate his later plays' more direct recuperation of Aboriginal subjectivities13 by dismantling constructions of the docile (colonized) body in favour of an unruly (resisting) body that always threatens to loosen institutionalized authority's grasp on representation. In both texts, there is a powerful link between verbal and physical self-assertion, or what Dash terms "cri and corps,"14 so that subversive language - including debased and obscure dialogue, silence and pre-verbal enunciation - augments the effects of subversive corporeality. Visions, like Nowra's earlier play, Inner Voices (1977), presents a savagely parodic view of the ways in which imperialism produces dystopian societies where power is exercised (and countered) through corporeal inscription. The Golden Age reiterates this de-authorizing perspective through a similar repertoire of carnivalesque images, but balances dystopian forces with utopian energies that suggest a tentative optimism largely absent from his prior work. Although he ultimately chooses not to provide an enabling version of postcolonial identity in either play, Nowra illustrates quite clearly here Stallybras's and White's contention that "the body cannot be thought separately from the social formation."15

Juxtapositions of classical and grotesque bodies are prominent in each play and usually function to expose and ridicule the colonizing culture's representational motifs. The Golden Age, for example, introduces the dominant ego-ideal through the statuesque bodies of Elizabeth and William Archer as they perform Iphigenia in Taurus within the confines of a convict-built Greek temple in their garden. The audience is then rapidly transported to the bizarre and excessively corporeal world of the forest people who, mostly misshapen, mute, and genetically deformed, nonetheless convey a tremendous vitality which carnivalizes classical form with grotesque formlessness. These people, as Kelly notes, represent the "lost tribes" of modern Australia, the Aborigines and convicts expelled from imperial society and "deformed physically and linguistically by the colonizing ascriptions of alterity."16 Their species of (meta)theatre, Tate's folk version of King Lear enacted in precis and further bastardized through pastiche and parody, stands in sharp contrast to the Archers' charity concert and stresses populist over imperial interpretations of the theatrical canon. In style, each playlet reveals not only its participants' approaches to the body in performance but also the modus vivendi of the culture which produces and consumes such narratives. The Archers' somewhat static recitation17 points to a regulated and rational society whereas the forest people's energetic and even histrionic improvization foregrounds their unrestrained physicality. The epistemic split suggested here is further underlined by a marked contrast in the linguistic codes of the two performances, the second enacted in a "syncretic patois" which carnivalizes the formal English of the first.

The subversive potential of metatheatre, often a feature of Nowra's texts is here extended when Betsheb stages her pantomime for Francis. This scene illustrates not only the exhuberant kinesis of the grotesque body but also its tendency to both beguile and unnerve the viewer:

[BETSHEB] throws herself on the ground and rolls over and over down to him like a log rolling down a hill, then jumps up, pretending to be MELORNE asking for his hat to take up a collection. FRANCIS laughs at her imitation. BETSHEB then squats and pretends to piss, making groaning, pissing noises; a broad grin of contentment passes over her face. She does a parody of a high-born woman. She pretends to sit and sip tea at an exclusive dinner party. She speaks as if delivering bon mots to imaginary guests. . . . BETSHEB is extremely happy showing off to FRANCIS. She prowls around him like a wild, vicious dog sniffing its prey, and then she turns into a snarling, spitting Tasmanian devil, an act which slightly unnerves FRANCIS. Abruptly, she changes again and begins to walk like a grande dame taking a promenade. She motions to convicts nearby and gives them orders. . . . Then the grande dame farts. She discretely waves her hand behind her to get rid of the smell.18

Betsheb's scatalogical humour is not the only carnivalesque gesture here. What is unsettling for Francis is her ability to traverse the human/animal divide and to violate the space which normally positions the onlooker at a safe distance from the spectacle. Her parodic performance can be seen to enact precisely that movement which shows the instability of colonial authority: a turning "from mimicry - a difference that is almost nothing but not quite - to menace - a difference that is almost total but not quite."19 Betsheb's telekinesis is also part of this menacing difference. Through it, she carnivalizes the authority of the founding objects of imperial cartography - the map, the book and the compass - turning them instead into objets trouvé which she keeps in a bag with a large lizard.

Through all of its "misfits," The Golden Age presents the unfinished, protean, and anarchic body/language extolled by Bakhtin, decentring hegemonic tropes with a corporeal semiotic that promotes unruliness as the rule. Within such a paradigm, Stef's spasticity and Betsheb's epileptic attacks, along with other highly theatricalized moments such as Melorne's fight with Francis, bring images of disorder into acute visibility via bodies that refuse subjection to the rigid control of the rational mind. The sharp opposition between form and formlessness developed in the first act of the play can be read through the politics of transgression as expressed by Stallybras and White in a model which pits "costume" against "statue." Following Bakhtin, they argue that the inert statue, which has no openings or orifices and is usually raised on a pedestal, encapsulates the "transcendent individualism" of the bourgeois body while it positions us as eternal latecomers to a history which has always already happened, usually elsewhere. Costume, on the other hand, is open, multiple, split and transformative; it "takes pleasure in processes of exchange and is never closed off from its social or ecosytemic context."20 It is important not to elide this figurative use of costume with the literal sense of the term for although the Archers are emblematic of the statue, they do of course achieve this effect partly through dress, a paradox which situates Stallybras's and White's model of costume as a metaphorical conceit that relies upon but does not replicate the usual sartorial codes of theatre. The forest people, in contrast, express the polysemic and mutable body of costume. On a literal level, their colourfully patchworked clothes augment this trope and function as part of a carnival masquerade which beguiles and reworks the dominant discourses. What happens after their return to "civilization" figures, in many respects, the (hi)story of a colonial society's effort to forge statues out of costumes, to suppress carnivalesque energies so that imperial order and (self)control can be safely maintained.21 This is partly achieved through costume itself as the forest people are "dressed up" for their new roles, and although the reformation of the grotesque body is revealed as a complete farce during the dinner party scene when Betsheb deflates the Archers' pretentiousness by repeating her "vulgar" parody of the grande dame, the subsequent action affirms the agency of the Empire's (new) clothes to signify and effect corporeal oppression and disempowerment.

If The Golden Age attempts to retrieve the grotesque body from its constitution as "the eternally deformed Other within imperial discourses,"22 Visions, which enacts the tale of Australia's colonial history somewhat more elliptically, stops short of such recuperative projects and deploys carnivalesque imagery primarily to show how regimes of power self-deconstruct. Set in Paraguay in the 1860s, Visions details the catastrophic effects of cultural imperialism when Madame Lynch, a Parisian courtesan married to President Lopez, determines to impose her version of "civilized" culture on the country. That this incursion amounts to cultural rape is clearly indicated by an opening image of the peasant, Juana, in a bloodied and mud bespattered white dress. But Nowra is just as concerned to intervene in the processes of imperialism as to locate them; hence, as the superstructure for domination is put in place through a series of "cultural" events and military manoeuvres, so too are mechanisms of subversion activated, in this case primarily through three carnival motifs: dance, costume, and eating.

A brief examination of the bal masqué scene of Visions shows how dance, which is normally intrinsic to carnival, can be deployed to foreground a disruptive corporeality that resists imperial government. Almost all of Nowra's plays include some kind of dance, most of which enact a struggle for power and authority in tense, uneasy relationships between individuals and groups. In Visions, as Lynch and Lopez vie for control over the dance, which, in symbolic terms can be seen as Paraguayan culture and even the country itself, Lynch attempts to assert her mode, the waltz, as the essence of "civilized" movement by establishing herself as the "teacher" and Lopez as her "pupil." This is a common paradigm of colonizer discourse and one repeated in The Golden Age where, despite their romantic codings, the dances between Betsheb and Francis also function as appropriative gestures which attempt to fashion Betsheb's body in the classic mould by dispelling the energies of the whirling dervish-like dances she has previously performed. But Betsheb carnivalizes the waltz by biting Francis on one occasion and stopping to "squat and piss" on another. In Visions, similarly, the self-privileging assumptions of the colonizer's code of dance are quickly dismantled. Notably, the raucous mardi gras music and the excessively literal costumes of the other guests, not to mention the dance of the grotesquely fat sisters, Corinna and Adelaide, subvert Lynch's ideal of a "refined" (read European) masked ball, establishing instead an atmosphere in which everyday socio-cultural boundaries can be, and are, transgressed. As the bal masqué devolves into Latin-American street carnival, Lynch herself begins to look somewhat ridiculous especially when she is obliged to dance with a local militia man dressed as a seven foot rabbit, an event which undermines, by its diminutive images, her socio-political stature, and ridicules her identity as harbinger of "culture." Furthermore, Lynch's attempted encoding of the dance scene as "soft and gentle" is ruptured by Lopez's deliberate staging of what he terms a "different kind . . . of entertainment:"23 a bloody fight between two men armed with stones and tied together so that neither can avoid the other's blows. Apart from re-asserting the grotesque body, this representation of violence in the dance enacts, metonymically, the tension between Lynch and Lopez as each struggles to assert his/her individual and cultural identity over the other, so that their subsequent dance together, and much of their relationship in the play, is characterized by both accommodation and resistance rather than merely domination.

In Visions, the thematics and metatheatrics of costume are even more pronounced than in The Golden Age, and Nowra is quite specific in his construction of costume as a colonlizing tool when he presents the magnificently attired Lynch as "dressed to kill" in more ways than one. Put simply, she sets out to refurbish Paraguay's unpretentious wardrobe with Parisian haute couture, but carnivalesque disruptions of her sartorial power redouble as the play progresses and her obsession with clothes proves not only selfish and stupid but self-destructive. Ironically, only the bal masqué costumes get packed when Lynch and Lopez flee the city in panic as their military adversaries close in. Although we never actually see what happens to her finery, the mix up of luggage wagons adumbrates what Lynch most abhors: the spectacle of "those barbarians parading around in [her] clothes" (49). Even her attempt to maintain a thin veneer of "civilization" by staging a play in the swamps to lift the troops' morale is undercut. With solely the bal masqué wardrobe to dress the actors from, the performance is inevitably coded as a burlesque circus featuring sword-swallowers, acrobats, strongmen and jugglers, and of course the colonized Juana (standing by metaphorical extension for the country itself) as the mouthpiece/puppet of the colonizer. As a vision of Paraguay's future should the Lynch-Lopez coalition win, this anti-masque not only exposes Lynch's quest to bring culture to the "barbarians" as a not-so-elegant farce but also re-plays the tropologies of the new world vision enacted in the masque scenes of Shakespeare's The Tempest. What Lynch doesn't sufficiently attend to, here and throughout the action, is costume's potential for subversion: the paradox of its specificity and versatility make it an extremely unstable power base because it threatens to become absurd when unsuited to the body or the occasion, and/or counteractive if seized by the colonized and worn differently. Nor does Lynch realize that her power, like Prospero's, is inherently theatrical: having the key to the costume cupboard gives her some control over representation but by no means accounts for the complex negotiations that occur between actors, audiences and the mise en scene.

Frequently, Nowra's manipulation of the grotesque body as a particularly theatrical site of resistance to colonization extends beyond an emphasis on form and costume to incorporate those carnivalesque images which pertain to the "lower bodily stratum," Bakhtin's collective term for the digestive and reproductive systems including the orifices and protuberances through which the body maintains its connection to the outside world. Through motifs such as eating, Visions reveals the rapacious greed of empire and constructs imperialism as little better than an act of savage cannibalism. As well as providing a symbolic framework, eating as metaphor and dramatic action draws attention, once again, to the physical body and shows how even its most basic functions are inflected by discourses of power. The manifestations of this power in its more and less overt forms are evident early in the play in two consecutive scenes - the leech scene and the first tea party - which place performative emphasis on eating. Lopez reveals his brutal aspirations quite clearly when he orders the leeches to be applied to his father in what Kelly interprets as the projection of his own recurrent nightmare of engulfment: being eaten alive by a giant snake.24 Lynch's humiliation of Corinna and Adelaide at the tea party which follows is only marginally less pernicious, for although she exerts mastery over the sisters through trickery rather than brute force, her actions effect a similar capture of the derogated subject, as stressed by paralleled images of despoliation. As a realm in which social and indeed physical power is exercised in the interests of imperialism, the tea party features in an even more sinister light shortly afterwards when Lynch and Lopez deliberately humiliate the American Ambassador over dinner and then poison him. During the meal Nowra effectively elides the discourses of war with the rituals of elegant dining to stress the ways in which astonishingly trivial regulations of behaviour nonetheless territorialize the body. In the subsequent action, however, as Lynch and Lopez lose control over the butchery of war/dinner, poetic justice reasserts itself, inverting the corporeal hierarchies established earlier through the eating motif. Appropriately, Lynch finds no rules of etiquette to safeguard her body when she is eventually shot in the head while poised over her cup and saucer at a solitary tea party in the festering swamps. Lopez's death befits his more explicitly violent exercise of power and replays the tropologies of the leech scene through a focus on his grotesque body, glutted to the point of impotence with the "hearts and eyeballs and bones from [his] victims" but literally unable to vomit up what it has ingested (70). Although not figuring in exact detail the fate Lopez foreshadows - being "paraded through the streets" in mardi gras costume, "tied to the stake, spat on [and] pissed on" (67) - these carnivalesque death scenes nonetheless enact a ritual degradation that aligns Lynch and Lopez with the mardi gras effigy and presages, in Bakhtinian terms, at least the possibility of a new material order or body politic.

In The Golden Age, eating functions less as a metaphor for colonization than as a corporeal activity which is inevitably influenced by social praxis. More importantly, it is a site of contestation through which the forest people assert their difference and thus question the behavioural norms and bourgeois table manners of the dominant group. Surely Betsheb's bird-like feeding of Stef by passing chewed meat directly from her mouth to his remains one of the most striking and subversive images in Nowra's theatre for it collapses the rigid hierarchies through which distinctions between human actions and animal instincts are constructed and maintained, postulating instead the existence of a "neither/nor" and even "both" creature which simultaneously repels and fascinates. The growls, yelps, groans and bird calls that punctuate the language of the lost tribe similarly de-authorize the discursive norms - or verbal manners - of "civilized" society. When they move from their own milieu to the Archers' stately mansion, the forest people's destabilizing alterity appears even more pronounced, as the carnivalesque dinner party clearly demonstrates through Betsheb's mimicry and Stef's comic attack-dog assaults on the ankles of a federal politician. Here, as in the many tea party scenes of Visions, Nowra's highly parodic mode of theatre deploys the force of the colonizing discourse/body against itself while portraying a "transgression of the high-low domains [which] creates a grotesque hybrid right at the social threshold."25

Like Lynch's attempts at tutelage, Mrs Archer's effort to regulate her guests' manners not only discloses the arbitrariness of her own code of etiquette, but also shows "the insidiousness of [its] application."26 According to Pierre Bourdieu, the reformation of manners, though seemingly superficial, is tantamount to a strategic colonization of the body which inculcates in the subordinated culture not only the acceptable corporeal forms but also their associated ideologies:

[Societies] that seek to produce a new man [sic] through a process of 'deculturation' and 'reculturation' set such store on the seemingly most insignificant details of dress, bearing, physical and verbal manners [because], treating the body as a memory, they entrust to it in abbreviated and practical, i.e. mnemonic, form the fundamental principles of the arbitrary content of the culture. The principles em-bodied in this way are placed beyond the grasp of consciousness, and hence cannot be touched by voluntary, deliberate transformation, cannot even be made explicit.27

The Archers' "civilizing" project enacts precisely this trickery because, in Bourdieu's words, it "extorts the essential while seeming to demand the insignificant."28 As the subsequent action reveals, the dinner party is in fact a prelude to incarceration and hence the first in a series of lessons designed to obliterate alterity through the production of corporeal obedience. Although not intended as punishment, the forest people's internment in the asylum nonetheless replays the disciplinary regimes of convict society and also makes parabolic reference not only to the extirpation of Aboriginal tribes in Tasmania during the colonial period but also to their ongoing subjection in the contemporary moment.

Imperialism's disciplinary inscription of the body also targets for reform the lost tribe's transgressive sexuality. On one level, genetic mutation and genital deformity marks their sexual difference but while these aberrations convey the threat of sterility, that menace is effectively neutralized by imperial medicine's diagnostic eye. More disruptive is Betsheb's excessive libidinal energy as embodied and performed through her animalistic play, her assertive female corporeality, and her unrestrained masturbation. Her particular menace is grounded in her unselfconscious violation of those bodily taboos, including the fantasy of incest, which define "normal" sexuality and expel unacceptable desires. When she desperately attempts to seduce Mac, Francis is shocked and embarrassed by the vehemence of her concupiscence precisely because she enacts and activates his own repressed sexual drives. Later, within the context of the Archer's society, Betsheb's sexual overtures towards Francis and her auto-erotic gestures are equally unsettling; however, it is perhaps her overly general sense of eroticism that mystifies her guardians most, for it presents the body as "a locus of sensory interchange with its natural and social environments,"29 refusing the Western genital fetish and redistributing pleasure across the entire body to posit a paratactic view of sexuality which is sharply at odds with the dictates of the classical/rational body. Paratactic sexuality, according to Stam's reading of Bakhtin, is "a broad, multi-centred canvas" where sexual pleasure always exists in close relation to other sensual pleasures, particularly those of the lower bodily stratum.30 Hence Betsheb's is the carnival body par excellence, the active, eating, farting, eliminating, menstruating and orgasmic body that emphasizes Eros and the life force. It is also the relatively undifferentiated body that depriviliges the phallic signifier and is consonant with Cixous's notion of a body without beginning and without end.31

Emphasis on sexuality and other functions of the lower bodily stratum is reiterated verbally in the dialogue of the forest people. As Peter Fitzpatrick notes, their language "is rich in suggestions of sensuality and fertility which establish their freedom from the repressions and indirections of socially-approved sexual dealings."32 Through a process of joyful repetition and reassociation, words like "tarse" and "quim" along with "cunty," "spoonfuckin'" and even "shit" are retrieved from negative and obscene contexts and reintegrated with a corporeal semiotic that restores to language the colloquialisms of the marketplace, the profanities and scatological references that Bakhtin regards as valorizing unofficial modes of cultural expression. The outcasts' grammar is similarly heteroclite, a feature which further enlivens the dialogue and augments its counter-discursivity vis ˆ vis the strictures of official language. As Stam argues,

[the] linguistic corollary of carnivalization entails the liberation of language from the norms of good sense and etiquette. The rules of grammar are suspended in what Rabelais called a gramatica jocosa, in which grammatical categories, cases and verb forms are ludically undermined.33

That the arcane creole of the forest people carnivalizes the socially approved language is clearly evident when William Archer attempts to translate Betsheb's dialogue, reducing the figurative energy of her phrases to their functional equivalents so that "windwhistlin'," for example, is paraphrased as "it went quickly," while "voice in a stick" is abridged to "telephone" (38). This translation establishes an expressive gap which functions as an index of social difference, intercepting notions of the "infinite transmissibility" of language and drawing attention to the incorporating universalism of standard English.34

The affiliation between the body and word as a form of resistance to imperialism is figured in reverse in Visions where Nowra focuses on the ways in which words actually enter and colonize bodies. Tiffin identifies this process as typical of colonialist education:

The texts of Europe were both deliberately (and sometimes adventitiously) deployed in the repression of the local and the concomitant reproduction and valorisation of Anglo-centric culture at the colonised site, within and through not just the minds but the very bodies of the colonised.35

Juana, in particular, is a figure profoundly and quite visibly marked by imperialism. Her interpellation is strongly visualized during the play-within-the-play when, like the ventriloquist's doll, she functions as a literal mouthpiece for Lynch's propaganda. That her stomach pours sand and her mouth spits diamonds further images the ingestion and processing of the dominant discourse, enacting in graphic detail the disembodiment of the colonial subject. These are, of course, ambiguous images which in some respects carnivalize Lynch's little play, but even after Juana regains her "normal" speech at the end of the performance proper, her articulation of Paraguay's future affirms her capture within imperialism's (corporeal) text since what she says is merely a recitation, a duplication of Lynch's vision without any of the enabling duplicity which critics like Bhabha attribute to colonial mimicry. As Tiffin argues, recitation, or "learning by heart," is a ritual act of obedience;36 it is not merely a metaphor of instruction but a "technology of bodily absorption and cultural reproduction" that erases local subjectivities and produces instead a body which "ventriloquize[s] the imperial voice at the colonial site."37 Our final image of Juana/Paraguay is thus less liberating than might be expected, for although Lynch and Lopez have been well and truly eliminated from the picture, the perdurability of their visions obscures all others. Through this ending, the play demonstrates Tiffin's point that the internalization/embodiment of the European text produces only a paradoxical disembodiment of the colonial subject.

In The Golden Age, the strategic capture of the body is imaged not through ventriloquism but through its visual counterpart: photography. Whereas recitation tells of a disembodied voice, photography shows the disembodied body, the subject split from the image and made obsolescent.38 Susan Sontag's argument that "to photograph people is to violate them"39 seems particularly relevant here, for Nowra clearly indicates that photography is one of imperialism's more insidious instruments. In the asylum, Mac can refuse other institutional procedures designed to render his body docile - his opposition to the manual skills test is a case in point - but he cannot escape Dr Simon's obsessive and voyeuristic interest in photographing his deformed genitals. Even before he castrates himself in protest, the camera's eye severs and segments his body, producing an anatomised figure whose difference is framed and contained in the snapshot image. In the short scene which pictures Mac's mutilated body, Dr Simon repeats this objectification quite overtly as she focuses her camera on his bloodied crotch and then rearranges the corpse with her foot until she has composed the "perfect" photo. The sequence vividly illustrates Garry Boire's point, made in reference to anticolonial trial plays, that the institutionalized body "inevitably appears as the site of aggressive sexual fragmentation and cajoled transformation."40 When Dr Simon later defends her callous actions by claiming that "photographs are a legitimate record of a patient's condition" (59), she only highlights the ways in which the documentation of the medicalized body functions as a covert disciplinary regime.

Since Nowra charts the disintegration of the lost tribe almost to the point of extinction but does not suggest that their colonization is ever complete or effected without resistance, it is possible, and even desirable in postcolonial terms, to read much of the asylum narrative not only through Foucault's analysis of the body's construction within power-knowledge systems41 but also in terms of the Bakhtinian theories already applied to earlier parts of the play. Within the latter framework, Mac's self-mutilation can and should be interpreted as a transgressive gesture: because his congenital deformity has rendered him infertile since birth, his castration effects not sterilization but a carnivalesque dismemberment which fractures Dr Simon's gaze and exposes the violence/violation implicit in her photographic surveillance. Betsheb's urinary and menstrual incontinence signals a similar corporeal unruliness while the tubercular infections of the other forest people always threaten to invade and contaminate the "healthy" society. As in Visions, contagion is particularly feared because it dissolves those boundaries constructed by imperialism's tendency to equate illness with otherness.42 If, as Bakhtin claims, dismemberment, degradation and disease are closely associated with the transformative functions of the grotesque body, even the asylum scenes anticipate a utopian rupture of imperial power. In Bakhtin's terms, these scenes link "the grave [with] the generating womb, the receding past [with] the advancing future,"43 so that the lost bodies of the past - of the convicts and Aborigines - can be reunited with their contemporary counterparts. Nowra hints at the possibility of such a re-membered future when Francis frees Betsheb from the asylum and leads her back to the forest, but this future remains inconceivable within the play's dramatic moment. As Kelly argues, the final image of the two lovers suspends closure, ending instead with a moment of "dynamic stasis."44

By their emphatic focus on the transgressive potential of the grotesque body in performance, both plays demonstrate Stam's theory that the body is "not a rigid langue but a parole in constant semiosis."45 In its utopian drives, The Golden Age ultimately enacts a carnivalesque revision of national identity with more hope than does Visions. Each text deploys the grotesque body against colonization - figured in the experiences of both Juana and Betsheb as a form of "shock therapy" which attempts to render the body docile and compliant - but only Betsheb fully regains her (tele)kinetic powers. It is through this recuperation of the female body as emblematic of the Australian nation that Nowra rehearses most fully his version of an alternative and empowering postcolonial subjectivity.

Monash University

1 Michael Dash, "In Search of the Lost Body: Redefining the Subject in Caribbean Literature," Kunapipi 11.1 (1989): 20.

2 Helen Tiffin, "Metaphor and Mortality: The 'Life Cycle(s)' of Malaria," Meridian 12.1 (1993a): 47.

3 Quoted in Gerry Turcotte, " 'Perfecting the Monologue of Silence': An Interview with Louis Nowra," Kunapipi 9.3 (1987): 58.

4 Veronica Kelly, "Louis Nowra," in Post-Colonial English Plays: Commonwealth Drama Since 1960, ed. Bruce King (London: Macmillan, 1992) 61.

5 See Gerry Turcotte's article "'Speaking the Formula of Abjection': Hybrids and Gothic Discourses in Louis Nowra's Novels," Westerly 36.3 (1991). Although Turcotte's emphasis on verbal discourses can be linked to his focus on fiction, he includes drama in this analysis and implies a uniformity of approach that tends to ignore the specificity of performance. In his 1987 interview with Nowra, cited above, Turcotte also draws attention to what he calls the "Gothic voice" as a characteristic feature of Nowra's theatre.

6 Jim Davidson, "Tasmanian Gothic," Meanjin 48.2 (1989): 313-14.

7 MaryBeth Inverso,The Gothic Impulse in Contemporary Drama (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1990) 61-62.

8 Russel McDougall, "Music in the Body of the Book of Carnival," Journal of West Indian Literature 4.2 (1990): 8.

9 Mary Russo, "Female Grotesques: Carnival and Theory," in Feminist Studies/Critical Studies, ed. Teresa de Lauretis (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1986): 218.

10 Kelly (1992) 61.

11 See Rosemary Jackson, Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion (New York: Methuen, 1981) 15-16; and Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélne Iswolsky (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984) 186-87. In her study of the origins of gothic literature, Jackson argues that the menippea was a traditional form of fantastic art which shows links with carnival but also some crucial differences which are now found in modern gothic fantasies.

12 Bakhtin, 39-40.

13 See for instance Capricornia (1988) and Summer of the Aliens (1992).

14 Dash, 21. Here Dash is working through Edouard Glissant's dual focus on the verbal (the frantic shout) and the carnal (the frenzied body) as expressed in Le discours antillais.

15 Peter Stallybras and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1986) 192.

16 Kelly (1992) 63.

17 Recitation, as an act of corporeal obedience will be discussed later in this paper with reference to Juana in Visions.

18 Louis Nowra, The Golden Age (Sydney: Currency, 1989[1985]) 29-30. All subsequent in-text references are to this edition.

19 Homi Bhabha, "Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse," October 28 (1984): 132.

20 Stallybras and White, 22.

21 That the world represented by the "statue" is a civilization in decay is suggested through the play's semiotics by the crumbling temple in the Archer's garden and later by the shattered and bullet-riddled statue of Frederick the Great which Francis encounters in Berlin during the war.

22 Kelly (1992) 63.

23 Louis Nowra, Visions (Sydney: Currency, 1979) 33. All subsequent in-text references are to this edition.

24 Veronica Kelly, "A Mirror for Australia: Louis Nowra's Emblematic Theatre," Southerly 41 (1981): 444.

25 Stallybras and White, 113.

26 Kelly (1981) 452.

27 Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1977) 94.

28 Bourdieu, 95.

29 Stanton B. Garner Jr., "Post-Brechtian Anatomies: Weiss, Bond, and the Politics of Embodiment," Theatre Journal 42.2 (1990): 148.

30 Robert Stam, Subversive Pleasures: Bakhtin, Cultural Criticism and Film (Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1989) 161.

31 Hélne Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa" in New French Feminisms: An Anthology, ed. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron (New York: Schocken Books, 1981) 259.

32 Peter Fitzpatrick, Review of The Golden Age, by Louis Nowra, Australasian Drama Studies 7 (1985): 141.

33 Stam, 99.

34 W.D. Ashcroft, "Constitutive Graphonomy: A Post-Colonial Theory of Literary Writing," Kunapipi 11.1 (1989): 72

35 Helen Tiffin, "'Cold Hearts and (Foreign) Tongues': Recitation and the Reclamation of the Female Body in the Works of Erna Brodber and Jamaica Kincaid," (Unpublished Paper, 1993): 2.

36 Tiffin, "Cold Hearts" (1993) 10.

37 See Tiffin, "Cold Hearts" (1993) 11-15.

38 Russell McDougall, "The Snapshop Image and the Body of Tradition: Stage Imagery in The Lion and the Jewel," New Literatures Review 19 (1990): 104.

39 Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1973) 14.

40 Garry Boire, "Tribunalations: George Ryga's Postcolonial Trial 'Play'," ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 22.2 (1991): 14.

41 See Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1979).

42 Tiffin, "Metaphor and Mortality" (1993) 47.

43 Bakhtin, 193-5.

44 Veronica Kelly, "'Nowt more outcastin'': Utopian Myth in Louis Nowra's The Golden Age," in A Sense of Exile: Essays in the Literatures of the Asia-Pacific Region, ed. Bruce Bennett (Perth: Centre for Studies in Australian Literature, 1988) 107.

45 Stam, 159.


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