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Journal of the South Pacific
Association for Commonwealth
Literature and Language Studies
Number 36 (1993)
Edited by Michèle Drouart
The Man of the Land/The Land of the Man: Patrick White and Scott Symons
Terry GoldieIf he had been a woman in body as well as psyche, Eddie might have put out a tentative hand and touched an orange paw.
Patrick White (188)Georges simply set out to show that being a homosexual made him more and not less the man. . . . People quail in front of him.The present paper is part of a general study of gendered figures for the land in Canadian and Australian texts. I am looking at the way such tropes are used to produce the land, the geographical or topographical entity, as a "natural" nation. At its most basic this might be simple praise for the landscape of "Australia fair," but even that can create complicated relationships: in W.C. Wentworth's Australasia (1923), the land is at once "Mother Earth" and infant of aging mother Britannia.
Scott Symons (235)
Benedict Anderson, in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and spread of nationalism, states,
If nation-states are widely conceded to be "new" and "historical," the nations to which they give political expression always loom out of an immemorial past, and, still more important, glide into a limitless future. It is the magic of nationalism to turn chance into destiny. With Debray we might say, "Yes, it is quite accidental that I am born French; but after all, France is eternal." (19)
If one replaces France with Canada or Australia, the irony becomes almost overwhelming.
The naturalizing tendency of the national consciousness is given similar treatment by Raymond Williams:
"Nation" as a term is radically connected with "native". We are born into relationships which are typically settled in a place. This form of primary and "placeable" bonding is of quite fundamental human and natural importance. Yet the jump from that to anything like the modern nation-state is entirely artificial. [Raymond Williams, The Year 2000 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), as quoted in Brennan, 2.]
In Fear and Temptation I explored the process of "indigenization," through which the "settler" population attempts to become as though indigenous, as though "born" of the land. That book emphasizes representations of indigenous peoples as a central reflection of indigenization but there are many others:
Each reference in The Bulletin, the nationalistic nineteenth-century Australian magazine, to the white Australian as "native" or "indigenous" is a comment on indigenization, regardless of the absence of Aborigines in those references. (14)
As are any personifications of the land.
Scott Symons' Combat Journal for Place d'Armes (1967) is a multi-layered comment on autobiography. An English Canadian named Hugh leaves wife, children and career to move to a highly homoerotic version of Montreal and write a novel about Andrew, who has done the same. This experience reflects Symons' own, and Scott, Hugh and Andrew seem slight variations of the same person.
Patrick White's The Twyborn Affair is not so clearly the author's life. The central character, Eddie Twyborn, is of an earlier generation: already a young man before the First World War, he dies early in the Second. The first part of the novel avoids his gender, depicting him as a woman living in France. In the second section, he is once more a male, performing the stereotypical job of jackeroo, an apprentice manager on an outback station. In the third, he is again female, madam of a brothel in London. At his death, he is left between, killed by a bomb while dressed as a male to go to see his mother, who ironically has finally accepted his transsexuality. The maid urges Mrs Twyborn to seek shelter from the bombing:
"Two men were killed at the corner."
"It's too late - too late to die. I'll stay and watch. Besides, I'm expecting my daughter." (431)
Still, Eddie Twyborn's symbolic life seems to say much about White's own. The central amour for Eddie, his "husband" in the first part, is an aging Greek man, whose combination of peasant understanding and urbane sophistication is both surprising and fascinating to the young Australian, whose background has given him no such clear cultural shape. This is quite similar to the way White has represented his lifelong love with Manoly, a Greek man he met in the Second World War. As well, White is, like Eddie, from the "squattocracy," the Australian landed gentry.
I emphasize the autobiographies here not simply for the obvious reason that these are homosexual authors depicting homosexual characters. More important to the present discussion is the social positioning of the authors, both in terms of class and of nationalism. As for White, Symons' background seems to give the lie to the assumption that Canada has no aristocracy. The blurb to the original edition of Place d'Armes states that "Scott Symons is his own Canadian allegory [w]ith all great grandparents here by confederation, a grandfather and father who wrote on Canada. . . ."
Symons is one of the nostalgic nationalists defined by George Grant's Lament for a Nation. They assert that the Loyalist values of an earlier era gave an organic ethics with which one might fight the technologizing vacuous individualism of the Americanization of Canada. For Symons, the present, the late sixties, "was a question of Land and the Man . . . of the lost Land and the Lost Man" (233). White says in his autobiography that he rejected a backward-looking nationalism, like that of his father, whom he called "[a]n Australian chauvinist of the old order" (Flaws 129), but maintained a commitment to his country. His criticisms of jingoistic nationalism never deny the devotion suggested by his reflections on leaving his home at Castle Hill: "I was also afraid to sever the spiritual roots I had put down in that originally uncongenial soil." (146) The Twyborn Affair clearly understands such mystical connection. Don Prowse, the station manager, says of the station owners, the Lushingtons: "Marcia's of the land - if you know what I mean. Greg only inherited it." (187)
The gender of Canadian culture has never been completely clear. As those creative outsiders, Monty Python, have depicted, we have our lumberjacks and mounted police,1 and we did our manly duty by preventing women from becoming "persons" through much of our history, but a number of commentators have suggested that Canada has always been a patriarchal society hiding a female consciousness, as implied by its unusual proportion of female novelists.
It is a commonplace to see Australia as predominantly male. The vision of the "Australian legend" is of the bushman barely surviving in an unyielding land. The woman at the edge of this legend is almost constantly alienated, from Henry Lawson's "The Drover's Wife" through Kate Grenville's Lillian's Story. Still, White's perspective was quite different:
Critics in other parts of the world have accused me of portraying almost exclusively weak men in my novels. This might come from living in a country where women tend to dominate the men, even those convinced of their own virility. (Flaws 130)
Thus, in The Twyborn Affair, while Eddie's father is a judge and his friend Mr Golson a wealthy businessman, both are rather lifeless and ineffectual figures compared to their wives.
In Place d'Armes, Hugh is fighting what both he and Canada have become. When he sees the Torontonians in the Montreal antique store he recognizes them as "upper-classified Canadians. They walk with that authority - that is, they follow their wives authoritatively" (63). For Symons the Canadian elite give the impression of control but it is an always emasculated control. Hugh's job ended when he told his boss, "you've got no balls, sir" (19). Now he persistently wails at the new Canada of "Mummybank," and "the new Mommy eating all, everyone - thousands sacrificed to this new smotherlove. And I remember the wife" (155).
The yearning for Montreal and for Place d'Armes itself is a confused one. Part of it is simply the typical Tory devotion to the seigneurial past. One element of Hugh's homosexuality, the elite homosocial, is captured by his own class in Montreal, people like Georges in my epigraph. Hugh perceives himself and other Anglo-Canadians as not the "Amurrican Square" but "the substance of our Canadian cube" (60). Each time Hugh has a homoerotic encounter with one of his Anglo-Canadian friends he is trying to overcome that cubeness and yet maintain the substance. He sees in the elite Quebecois "something non-cubicular . . . or, rather, cubicular-plus. C'est coulant. That's it - there is a flow in them, a certain kind of animacy that is a flowing" (202).
Yet Hugh is also attracted to Quebec as the place of the primitive other. When he is picking up young men at Place d'Armes he is clearly turned on by the rough in a stereotypical Pasolini sense. He constantly refers to their teeth as "like rotted patates frites" (38). Hugh is obsessed by their "lifegiving dirt" (38), but the dirt goes beyond the physical. When one of the boys tries to rob him his first reaction is to confront him but this is quickly overcome by sexual desire (219).
In the first section of The Twyborn Affair, homosexuality seems a hidden issue. The disguised Eddie is called Eudoxia Vatatzes and accepted as a woman by everyone including the novel. In the second part, Eddie, now a veteran of the First World War, is returning to Australia but all of his past, including the genders of that past, is with him: "'Tired of dressing up . . .' Not only in the carnation robe, the pomegranate shawl, but the webbing, the mud leggings, and starting out through the carnival of gunfire and Verey lights" (137). His sexual activity at the station, with both Marcia and Prowse, the latter also a former lover of Marcia, is tortured and confusing but also revealing to him.
It enables him to try two potential definitions which are part of traditional views of the Australian male. One is heterosexual, as lover of the woman labelled as "of the land," as father of her child and thus potentially - and potently - positioned as the squatter, the man of the land much more than Greg, her apparently sterile and perhaps impotent husband. The other definition is as homosexual "mate" of the complete bushman, Prowse. The latter might seem far from traditional yet mateship has often been seen as covertly or overtly homosexual. The absence of women in the outback was met by an almost symbiotic one-to-one relationship between a man and his mate. This is clear in many classic Australian narratives which show no awareness of any kind of sexuality, such as Mrs Aeneas Gunn's We of the Never Never, in which the romantic devotion between two bushmen is equalled only by their trepidations at the novelty of seeing a woman.
Neither of Eddy's encounters provides a comforting fulfilment, as shown in Prowse's macho description of him: "He's nothun more than a bloody queen" (289). When Prowse penetrates him, the novel represents Eddie as "victim" (285). When he penetrates Prowse it is no more positive:
Eddie Twyborn's feminine compassion which had moved him to tenderness for a pitiable man was shocked into what was less lust than a desire for male revenge. (296)
When Prowse leaves, Eddie tries to be assertive but fails: "'Go on, Don - get!' It sounded unconvincingly male" (297). Although Eddie is able to father a child he is no more comfortable with his heterosexual role. When lying on Marcia's bed, he hears her husband:
And the footsteps began advancing with a male assurance which had been his own till recently. Eudoxia Vatatzes lay palpitating, if contradictorily erect, awaiting the ravishment of male thighs. (282)
In this paper I am trying to deconstruct at least one element of that link between myth and experience, between natio and nation. In Place d'Armes, the central myth is the split which on the surface is French and English but is beneath square Protestant and passionate Catholic. In The Twyborn Affair it is the separation between the "true" Australia of the station and the bush and the sophisticated attractions of old Europe, the erudite Greek and the polished English. Through both runs a pedestrian reality, the platitudinous Liberal Canadian businessmen of place and the vulgar Australian Golsons of Twyborn.
Both offer answers, indigenization achieved through two very different versions of homosexuality. Rather than the usual heterosexist metaphor of the nation, in which the female land is met by a male son or lover, these overtly homoerotic texts offer variant choices. Place d'Armes acclaims a hypervirile misogyny, in which Scott/Hugh/Andrew must fight bland emasculation. The Twyborn Affair depicts a transsexual alternative, in which the quintessential Australian is a combination of perception and receptivity, never blinded by the absurdities of the macho Australian dream but also not defeated by the vaunted superiority of refined European masculinity. This is an Australian male who does not cringe from the European but at once deceives and fulfils him.
In the beginning of Sexual Dissidence, Jonathan Dollimore establishes a central difference between the views of homosexuality embraced by Andre Gide and Oscar Wilde:
So the very categories of identity which, through transgression, Wilde subjects to inversion and displacement, Gide reconstitutes for a different transgressive aesthetic, or as it might now more suitably be called, in contradistinction to Wilke, a transgressive ethic, which remains central to the unorthodoxy which characterizes his life's work. (18)
White does not equal Wilde nor Gide Symons but Dollimore's distinction seems to fit here. Even the claimed female psyche in my epigraph appears a social construction, not the revealed essence that is often presented for the transsexual. Eddie's dying male garb and lipstick show the importance of signs, as do his lesbian mother's cigars and male drag.
White requires transgression because of the failure of absolutes, of the belief in a non-discursive truth. Symons needs transgression because this is the source of truth. His term, "assoul," and the obsession with all possible interpretations of constipation, suggest a moral spirit within. Leo Bersani's "Is the Rectum a Grave?" captures at least part of Symons' essence but rather in opposition to his misogyny. Symons' "assoul" seems to be associated with phallic power while for Bersani it is a mystical transformation through a denial of the same:
Phallocentrism is exactly that: not primarily the denial of power to women (although it has obviously also led to that, everywhere and at all times), but above all the denial of the value of powerlessness in both men and women, I don't mean the value of gentleness, or nonaggressiveness, or even of passivity, but rather of a more radical disintegration and humiliation of the self. For there is finally, beyond the fantasies of bodily power and subordination that I have just discussed, a transgressing of that very polarity which, as Georges Bataille has proposed, may be the profound sense of both certain mystical experiences and of human sexuality. (217)
Bersani's article centres on the social figuration of AIDS, which postdates the action of both novels, but he maintains that the fact of AIDS has just "reinforced the heterosexual association of anal sex with a self-annihilation originally and primarily identified with the fantasmatic mystery of an insatiable, unstoppable female sexuality" (222).
In Symons, the anal negation seems to be there but it is directly associated with phallic energy and both reject female sexuality. The specifically homosexual images in White depict negation and failed phallic power but offer little mystical scope in comparison to transvestite femaleness. In White, when the transgressive aesthetic is most fulfilled, in the Eudoxia episode, sexual acts seem almost beside the case. In Symons, essentialism - again represented in the epigraph - leads to a reversal of negation: the concept of "assoul" privileges homosexuality over heterosexuality but it remains the very phallocentric vision which Bersani seeks to confront.
These texts might seem only slightly concerned with indigenization but both are part of that need to learn how to belong as though original. The European settlers and their descendants have been consistently caught by out-of-placeness but how much more so the homosexual in these homophobic countries. It is perhaps not surprising then that these two authors, representatives of the established white order, should be concerned to discover a particularly homosexual way of belonging. Yet Place d'Armes only reacclaims the misogyny of Tory heterosexism in a Tory homosexualism. The Twyborn Affair is a different matter.
In a narrative of the transgressive aesthetic, those who believe themselves to be coherent subjects are either dangerous or absurd. Marcia's husband says, "I like to think I've been the same person . . . every hour of my life" (215), a complete contrast to Eudoxia/Eddie/Eadith or his devoted mother, "Eadie of the corked-on moustache" (153). As they move through various social contexts Eddie and Eadie are able, in brief embraces, to interfere with some of those coherent subjects and show them the necessity of inversion. The end result is not the reductive Australia of Australian legend but a new Australia of legendary, multigendered possibilities. Symons offers male arms in a place which reasserts the military arms of phallic reduction. White offers arms of connection and, with irony and confusion, of love. The Twyborn Affair might be seen as an empowering text, not just for gay studies but for any attempt to create a national subject at once gendered and beyond gender.
York University, Canada
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983.
Bersani, Leo. "Is the Rectum a Grave?" Aids: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activisim. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1988, 197-222.
Brennan, Tim. Salman Rushdie and the Third World: Myths of the Nation. New York: St Martin, 1989.
Dollimore, Jonathan. Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Goldie, Terry. Fear and Temptation: The Image of the Indigene in Canadian, Australian and New Zealand Literatures. Montreal: McGill-Queen's, 1989.
Grant, George. Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1965.
Grenville, Kate. Lillian's Story. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1987.
Gunn, Mrs Aeneas. We of the Never-Never. 1908. Richmond, Victoria: Hutchinson, 1962.
Lawson, Henry. "The Drover's Wife."