JUDITH RODRIGUEZ (Ed.) Four New Poets Ringwood: Penguin Australia, 1993.
Different poets, innovative forms, perceptive visions: this collection comprises four distinctive voices and a range of perspectives.
In his collection, "A Measure of Place," John Bennett images both natural and human history. The itinerant poetic voice evokes a sense of place (Australia, Japan, England, China, France, Germany) with a measure--of time distance, perspective, sense and value--vital to its inscription. The poetry's controlled and diverse forms and rhythms range from the eye-teasing concrete stanzas of "The Pear," to the delicate touch between fragile spaces of the "Small Japanese Poems," and on to the longer narratives. Imaginative expanse and formal control gauge the pulse of this writing. The sea and its wildlife hold mesmerising power over the poetic eyes ("One Week, Kangaroo Valley," "Long Reef"). "Blackwattle Bay" works with image and sign to probe the processes of art and the construction of meanings. Words vision worlds; an observing eye / I is fascinated by the processes of writing, and the relation between subject and object, writing and written, seeing and seen. The mathematical precision of the lines strain to contain:
Each line a branch that creaks like wood
and like wood stretches beneath a sky
of memorable arboreal blueness.
The poem is constructed around ways of seeing and ways of telling that seeing: pulling together powers of the physical eye and the mind's eye, for their collaborative vision. For Bennett, human history is then and now, there and here--a complex montage. The massacres of Peterloo in Manchester in the nineteenth century, of Tienanmen, a recent horror, and of the ancient Greeks by the Spartans, are reduced to screams which "have been grafted onto magnetic tape, reeled / on spools and shelved in underground vaults" ("From Belvoir Street to Tienanmen Square"). In "Saltford," by contrast, montage becomes collage, chronology levelled: "a tense process / of working histories." The English town is re-created as a series of significant dates. The poems which deal with the horrors of war are powerful precisely because of the conveyed sense of their impact on the present. "The Sound of One Bomb Dropping" voices the deadly hush which fell on Hiroshima, "the lovely name whispered." Visiting the Peace Park, the poet re-members the deceptive silence which mutilated and mangled human bodies. "My pink plastic / poppy blooms too easily;" memory is paler than the dark crimson of blood, though the discrepancy heightens the unspeakable suffering. A fine collection.
"Thesaurus," the last piece in Susan Hawthorne's collection, finds that the words given in the thesaurus under the term epilepsy are inappropriate. The poems which precede this last entry articulate, formulate a space for the experience, the language of epilepsy. Epilepsy also becomes here a metaphor of the struggle for, and the elusiveness of, subjectivity, smashing the deceptive smugness of the self-present subject in control. This poetry regularly erupts with the voice, movement and power of staccato convulsion:
I am an electrical impulse.
I leap across the abyss of the synapse. ("Grand mal")
This impulse lives in, and in opposition to, the body which it takes by cruel surprise, and gloats over. The struggle, then, is to articulate a language in the face of epilepsy which effaces the subject's power to name and identify herself; it creates her as other: "Unfamiliar / Even to myself" ("Black hole"). In the clutch of a fit the speaking subject also becomes the object of epilepsy. This subject--object tension is a taut and strained relation, a tense present of falling. This fall, this failure, is the gap, the space that can only be displaced by the speaking subject. Words come to matter as a connection between the subject and her world; without them
There's a hyphen between me
and the rest of the world,
breaking us apart. ("Hyphen")
--the inexpressible, yet full, full space reminiscent of Emily Dickinson's poetry. Under the grip of a seizure, the tongue becomes flesh: "It swells and spreads / into all the cavities / of my mouth" ("Tongue"); and teeth attack flesh: "Teeth tear this succulent / tender shaper of words" ("Teeth"). The world of epilepsy is both timeless, the body dispersed: "I am at every possible time" ("Dance"), and a return to pre-history, invoking the maternal ("Relearning the language caught inside my tongue"). To write the body is to express "A syntax of relationships / between words and the self." These lines from "Words on Mirrors" return a reflection of the subject's reality, "the reality of blood and words" speak a subjective otherness. Hawthorne's poetry words the flesh, boldly fleshes the words, to speak the tongue of a hitherto unspoken epilepsy.
A myriad of sound patterns animate Terry Whitebeach's poetry; these sounds structure the lines and lives evoked. Many of the poems display a comic sensitivity built of direct, colloquial rhythms. The graphic, dramatic narratives of poems such as "Happy Families" exploit metre and phrasing to convey the (sometimes unspoken) tensions that furnish the fuller story behind family matters. Individual voices (often children's) animate the lines; characters gain identity through their speech, or through report of it. Grandmother, for example,
religious in her own way
Uncrosses the knives because there's
trouble enough in the world without looking for it.
Distractions from writing become its subject matter for a poet who is also a mother; the comic interruptions of children which dominate "Poet" are foregrounded, while concerted efforts ("flowers and bushes, up and up / to the rocky, misty mountain") to reach the "wise woman" who could answer all questions, are foiled. It seems the poet does manage escape, inspired flight, into the dreamy lyricism of "Bird Dream," where
in my head.
shells crack open.
And onto the absorbing focus of "Shaman's" incantatory pulse, where the voice swoops into the realms of self as primal animal and as vibrant spirit and beat: "In the beating of the heart in the dance / is the power and the passion and the knowing." From this sense of physical immediacy we move on to the delicate, inky black marks of spare lines which signify "Black Swans at Herongate":
over Bream Creek
into the darkness
as the new moon
The erotic sensuality of "I Love you with My Belly" is gutsy and ecstatic: "Anemone-mouths open, / fronded, imploding". The dream is shattered when love is betrayed, and the bird, image of creative impulse, departs ("Bird Dream--Broken"). Whitebeach's poetry displays an impressive and vital range.
Traversing cultures--territories and languages--Beate Josephi, whose homes are now Germany and Australia, writes of the complex crossings and contrasts between and across boundaries. The poetic voice identifies and locates itself as an exiled one:
We have to found our own universe, especially
when in exile. Dante did, and Joyce, to write
the legend of our paranoia and dreams which
we take with us wherever we go. ("Homeland")
In these poems the roaming subject constructs a language-world through layered histories and (often) literary geographies. She takes up an always ec-centric position: inside, but off-centre, oblique. Different languages mean different homes, one a refuge from another, "Then I can push away the still lingering phrases / and go into a clear uncluttered space of words" ("In Praise of a Second Language"). The group of poems under the title "Germany 1989" writes, from quirky perspectives, the divide of walls and their fall. "Hopscotch," for example, employs comedic, playful rhythms, switching in contrasting truisms the lives of Mrs Bach (East) and Mrs Schmuck (West):
Dresses were never Mrs Bach's concern
Mrs Schmuck certainly knows better
between silk and synthetics she can discern
because capitalism will let her.
Notions of freedom are cynically questioned through imagistic gestures as in "Money Changer;" and the cruel arbitrariness of barriers constructed is exposed in "Surfaces," where two women cling "on opposite sides to the stylish iron / fence of some embassy." The five poems which carry the collection's title, "Pilgrim Routes," trace the subject's search for a future and freedom through the patterned journey of a lyrical (fantasied and real) love, through various landscapes of passion and country. The sensuality of clasped images, structures the vagaries of this relationship:
Her hands washed over him like a wave and he,
clad only with lips and tongue, searched her
for the saltiness of the sea. ("Love and Loneliness")
The threat of absolute love (death) compels the subject's escape from this finally halted journey into a new one ("The Squirrels"). This poet's observant vision signifies a perpetual movement through languages and their territories.
"Shall I tear a gossamer so carefully spun?" writes Josephi in "Book Reviewing." This collection merits reading complete, respinning the gossamer of diverse thematic lines, manipulated and extended for cumulative effect.
PAUL SALZMAN, Helplessly Tangled in Female Arms and Legs: Elizabeth Jolley's Fictions, St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1993
KEN GELDER, Atomic Fiction: The Novels of David Ireland, St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1993
In his most recent work on imperialism Edward Said has celebrated the "unhoused, decentred, and exilic energies" of the migrant consciousness, a consciousness that crosses boundaries, transgresses categories and shifts identity. It is precisely this refusal of identity which has been explored in two recent studies in the University of Queensland Press "Studies in Australian Literature" Series. Ken Gelder's Atomic Fiction: The Novels of David Ireland and Paul Salzman's Helplessly Tangled in Female Arms and Legs: Elizabeth Jolley's Fictions both begin by problematising the identity of the author which they study. By doing so Gelder and Salzman deliberately work against many critical assumptions which such author-centred studies presuppose.
Summarising the debate which has characterised the critical response to Jolley's fiction, Salzman refuses to define Jolley from either a "traditional humanist" or a "postmodern" perspective. Rather, he sees Jolley herself as engaging with various critical assumptions. Such a critical and theoretical self-consciousness necessitates, according to Salzman, "a series of different critical perspectives." His study then goes on to approach Jolley from feminist, post-colonial and postmodern theoretical stances. But the "traditional humanist" method also sustains itself alongside these approaches. Salzman's study is, essentially, a carefully considered and sustained close reading of Jolley's fiction. His use of feminist theory, for example, begins with an epigram from Irigaray but goes on to examine a "dialectical movement between freedom and enclosure." Employing a Lacanian terminology Salzman charts the way Jolley's work vacillates between seeing femininity as a site outside the Law of the Father and as constrained within patriarchal law. This is, no doubt, an accurate reading of Jolley's refusal to posit feminine sexuality as a purely utopian space but Salzman's reading makes little use of Irigaray's or Kristeva's specific theoretical insights. Similarly, Salzman's use of post-structuralism does not actually adopt the methodology of deconstruction; rather, he sees Jolley herself as engaging with the types of issues deconstruction raises: the overcoming of oppositions and the problematisation of identities. The aim of the book "to resist the temptations of monological criticism" is achieved by this approach to theory. Within a general practice of close reading Salzman takes from various critical approaches those insights which he feels illuminate the various complexities of Jolley's fiction.
Ken Gelder's Atomic Fiction is a similarly introductory, lucid and careful study. Gelder places Ireland's fiction both within a varied intertextual network (drawing parallels from Sterne, Sade, Joseph Furphy and K.S. Prichard among others) and a complex theoretical terrain. Drawing upon Barthes' dialogism and Kristeva's theory of the abject Gelder demonstrates the way Ireland plays with the concepts of authority, individualism, community, communication, desire and marginality. Gelder's study has the advantage of illuminating the complexities of Ireland's work through a sophisticated interchange between Ireland's fiction and various political, theoretical and literary discourses. Ireland's images of corporate capitalism and monolithic societal structures are seen to produce the very perversions and distortions against which they are defined. Gelder uses this Foucaultian insight to explore the ways in which the text questions its own authority to define and delimit. The title of Gelder's study refers accurately to Ireland's technique which, like William Blake's emphasis on "minute particulars," refuses to posit any over-arching or stable semantic identity. Gelder's key term is the "irreducibility" of Ireland's fiction in which the fragmentary style of Ireland's work demonstrates the problematic character of the identities which it inhabits. Australia, for example, is identified by Gelder as one of Ireland's most important framing wholes. But any simple concept of national identity is precluded by Ireland's technique of examining nationalism as at once a feature of the discourse of late capitalism as well as a proliferating network of sub and counter cultures. The discursive richness of Ireland's fiction is, therefore, adequately matched by Gelder's thoughtful study.
Both these studies will be useful for undergraduates who seek both an introduction to the authors studied as well as examples of contemporary Australian fiction's engagement with recent issues in social theory. Both Jolley and Ireland are seen to provide complex ways of thinking through issues of national and gendered identity. The value of Gelder's study, in particular, lies in its resistance to formulate answers to such questions. Rather, both Jolley and Ireland are presented as authors who recognise and work through the difficulties of authorship in relation to these issues.
DOROTHY HEWETT, The Toucher, McPhee Gribble, 1993
Dorothy Hewett sets out her own parameters in her new novel, The Toucher. It is postmodern, her persona tells someone. It does not have a plot.
Neither does life, except in retrospect, and then there is always a battle to make it work as fiction. Hewett's character, Esther, is, among other things, writing an epistolary novel, which is a fancy way of saying that she is recalling the past in a fictional correspondence with an old lover. Speaking of the process, she says: "These letters are struggling to become something else. Convincing though they might be as letters they must also work as fiction. They must exist on two levels. They must dance on air."
This book is life writing, whether or not the particulars of the novel match her own, because what constantly interests Hewett is the self, its curious stubborn mix of sensuality and intellect. She is writing as a 67 year old, which is roughly her own age as well, looking back over her life, which seems to have become meaningful only with the awakening of her sexuality, and which, sexuality still unextinguished, is not over yet. She is ordering the past, picking out patterns from the fifty years she has interacted with others. The important figures are men, the important relationships sexual. The marginal figures that help her with the essentials of living in some way or other, necessary as they may be to her survival, are not valued in the same way as the men are. It is as though without engagement of her insatiate sensuality she is not living, and when she doesn't get it from a lover, she provides it herself.
Esther la Farge Summerton is crippled, immobile, ill and fat. These facts however do not limit her. She spends her time living, and considering that living, in a process as circular as the patterns of nature she makes such effective use of as metaphor and image for her own experience. The result is surprisingly readable, mostly for the creation of the character Esther, for her strength, rebellious unconventionality, and her acknowledgement and acceptance of her own nature. Hewett's recreation of the landscape of WA's southern coast, its birds, trees, light and above all, water, is one of the strongest aspects of the novel, and it does much to enrich the narrative. Finally though, we are left with a life, a powerful individual life, that is lived out in defiance of convention and bourgeois expectations, and which has to be admired for that. Hewett's last book, an autobiography, Wild Card, published two or three years ago, presented the same package with slightly different wrapping. This is her first novel for 34 years, and the late examination of self, represented in the two books, has been fruitful. In both we read about a woman who has found the order in her experience, and who has made peace with her complex and demanding self.
University of Western Australia
FOTINI EPANOMITIS, The Mule's Foal, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1993.
JOAN LONDON, Letter to Constantine, Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1993.
The words "A World of Magic Realism" seemed to jump out of the page at me from the September 25/26 Australian Weekend Review. To say that magic realism is a passion of mine would not be overstating the case and I therefore couldn't wait to get my hands on the two books thus described. As often happens, however, only one of the books being reviewed actually merits this label.
The concept of magic realism is not an easy one to grasp. The oxymoronic term has been applied to such a variety of fictions that it has acquired a degree of inconsistency and ambiguity. While magic realism originated in the art world in the mid 1920s, it is most commonly associated with the 1960s boom of Latin American writing. It is not, however, geographically confined to that region, flourishing also in many English-speaking countries--Canada in particular--with examples also to be found in some Australian fiction.
Exactly what is magic realism? In literature, magic realism belongs neither to the realm of fantasy nor to that of empirical reality, but is characterized by the co-existence of realism and magic (or fantasy). A magic realist text is situated in a recognizable contemporary world where extraordinary and inexplicable events occur and are accepted as a matter of course by both the narrator and the characters.
The Mule's Foal certainly meets these criteria. Set in a Greek village, it is the story of three houses--the house of Stefanos, the house of the Vaias, and the house of sin. The lives of the people in each of these houses intersect in a multitude of ways which generate more and more stories. The voice of the storyteller belongs to Mirella, an ancient prostitute whose storytelling creates a world in which anything can happen, where the explicable and the inexplicable are both equally possible. Stefano's wife Meta transforms herself into a man in order to be released from prison and later becomes a woman again; their son Theodosios marries Vaia, the daughter of Yiorgos and Stella, and they produce a gorilla-like child, Yiorgos the Apeface; a woman is transformed into a bear and eats her mother-in-law; a house is taken over by sand; and the sterile mule gives birth to a foal. Incredible events such as these are woven into the reality of day-to-day life and death in a small village, while the veracity of such extraordinary events is never questioned.
At times it is possible to hear the intertextual echo of the master magic realist, Gabriel García Márquez. For instance, in the village of The Mule's Foal, the League of Good Men who pay the villagers in yellow slips that can only be redeemed at the League's own store is strongly reminiscent of the Banana Company in García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude which pays the workers with scrip that can only be used to buy Virginia Ham at the company stores.
At times I was also reminded of the book Like Water for Chocolate by Mexican author Laura Esquivel, particularly where the singing of Yiorgos the Apeface creates an unbearable desire among the listeners: "As soon as the songs were over, people rushed out of the kafeneio to go home, to tear off their clothes and to fall upon each other."
Clearly Fotini Epanomitis' first novel belongs to the mode of magic realism. It is also a masterpiece of storytelling, as she uses the power of words to weave a magical reading experience.
While Joan London's book does not fall under the rubric of magic realism, it does raise questions about how we perceive reality. Letter to Constantine is a collection of eight short stories which focus on the mysterious quality of life. A central theme of each of the stories is the idea of journeying, both physically and mentally: "Who knows what she is seeing, what pilgrimage she's making, what landscape she is visiting, what region of the world?"
The journey is a metaphor for a search, a search for a sense of identity, for what makes us what we are, and also for a sense of place: "It is a hunger for the centre which is always elsewhere: a longing for a homeland, not Russia, not even France, but a country just beyond you."
Throughout the book a strong sense of filmic imaging pervades, both implicitly and explicitly. "The Woman Who Only Answered Yes or No," is about two films, one a commercial production, and the other a more personal series of images of a country woman who asks at the end: "Will you show it in your city? Can I come? Will Steiner see it? Will everybody know then who I am?" In other words, do we only know ourselves by the way that others see us? Is the image in the film more real than the object itself?
This is not an easy book to read as it raises many questions while providing few easy answers. It is, however, a book to be read and re-read, for the different images that remain afterwards, for the "life in glimpses" we are permitted to see. London's message seems to be that perspective or point-of-view is all-important to the way in which reality is constructed, not only for the characters but also for the reader: "This is the angle of vision I've inherited. This is everything I know."
HELEN GARNER, Cosmo Cosmolino. Ringwood, Victoria: McPhee Gribble, Penguin Books Australia Ltd., 1992.
BARBARA HANRAHAN, Good Night, Mr Moon. St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1992.
The difficulty of linked reviewing is powerfully emphasized by the difference between these books. Garner and Hanrahan might be called archetypal voices for Australian literature but discussing them together effects a strange yoking. Writers diverse in their focus, their fictional sites, they both speak to time's transformation, Hanrahan from her positioned inception of a changing century, and Garner through her use of age and memory to shape a current country of the imagination.
Although Hanrahan's death in 1991 implies that Good Night, Mr Moon is likely to be her last novel, her oeuvre has provided a distinctive reading of Australia. If one looks to Good Night, Mr Moon as an ultimate statement, one is likely to be disappointed; if one sees the novel as a part of the thread of Hanrahan's longer narrative, one can recover a sense of this writer's lifelong evocation of place and image. Typically, Good Night, Mr Moon rests on a gathering of powerful visual images, impelling in their situational particularity. And Hanrahan asserts a fearless voice: her story locates itself firmly in the vernacular of the ordinary characters she explores.
The narrator of Good Night, Mr Moon, Alexandra May, born on the same day as the 1901 visit of the Duke and Duchess of York, is careful to delineate her background as one of a family of "good, decent folk." Imbedded in her narrative is not only the day-to-day ritual of Adelaide life, but its behavioural dimensions, from kids who are considered well-brought up because they aren't allowed to go to the lavatory together to "the woman next door to us was a cheeky bitch who'd go in the bath with her girlfriend" to "a lady with a whole white hen on her hat." May observes these strange disjunctions in the unabashed voice of an amazingly superstitious Australia, struck by "sunbeam paralysis."
Alexandra May positions herself as a woman of genetic and clairvoyant gifts:
There are some people that, right from the start, know what no one else can see through, even--like me and my way of knowing things. It's in your body and it comes from the adenoids. You're born with whatever you're mixed up with, and the adenoids are little tiny things in your blood vessels and your other parts, and somehow they bring you out into the finish of the bigger thing. We don't know how we work at all, really. The world's a very mixed up sort of a place. Everything that comes: the people, the animals, the birds . . . they all grow their own kind of pattern, on account of the adenoids.
This adenoidal cheerfulness and phlegmatic tone are hilariously and ironically self-congratulatory. May feels herself "a bit beyond the ordinary," with artistic capacities in painting and music. "It must have been the adenoids, because a picture just came to me, and if it was a worthwhile picture I painted it." May's ability to turn her hand to almost anything, to make do under difficult circumstances, enables her to survive, but does not mitigate a peculiar innocence, particularly of sexual matters. Her attitude toward her body is dismissive, and she associates desire with necessity rather than pleasure. May develops toughness and resilience working at a variety of jobs, from lady's companion to clothes ironer, through the first war, the depression, and the second war. Yet, the novel filters larger history through the layers of a woman's world: clothing, food, cleaning.
Interspersed with the linear narrative of May's life is an italicised intertext that comments on the turmoil of a changing earth. There is beauty and inexplicable delight in the heavens, but uneasiness troubles the elements; there are storms and cataclysms. Those italicised sections (May's interior voice) suggest an impending Armageddon. The world is out of kilter, and by the end of the novel, the primary story and the italicised story begin to blur. But also interspersed are Hanrahan's line drawings of stars and moons, faces and flowers. In contrast, these line drawings act as an alternate intertext, idyllic and visual.
May's stubborn resistance, her almost Victorian fastidiousness, reveals the icon of a woman caught in the cusp of time. May sees change as Armageddon, the physical world as an index of safety. More intensely eccentric as she grows older, May becomes a kind of all-purpose fairy for her neighbourhood, picking up papers and trashbins, asserting her version of order. Thus Hanrahan portrays, fondly but devastatingly, Australia as a housewifely country inexorably changing but refusing to embrace change. The power of this novel is that it can be read as both metaphor and literal narrative of an ordinary life. How May uses her extraordinary gifts and what she does with her body are a humorous but sobering reflection of the postcolonial woman/country.
For Helen Garner, too, the woman is a transformative fictional country. Cosmo Cosmolino is marked by Garner's elegant and creamy prose. The book implicitly questions the traditional structure of narrative by presenting itself in three pieces, seemingly unconnected, but all joined by a nostalgia for the communal living of the seventies. Recorded are the moments of death that these characters face: their happy communality has died, as has their optimism, and now they hold vigils beside the bodies of their ineradicable youth. In "Recording Angel" the narrator struggles to reconcile her "career of blind staggering" with the illness visiting her best friend and the chronicler of her life, Patrick. Refusing his version of her, she nevertheless fears that Patrick's death will erase her life. "Have you ever . . . wished that someone you loved would die? So that the record of all your crimes and failures would be obliterated?" asks the narrator. But at the same time, she is terrified that Patrick's illness will compromise her history. "What if he forgets everything?" The scars and testimonies of friendship--life friendship--reside in this story as embodiments of all memory and forgetting.
In "A Vigil" a young man is forced to witness the cremation of the girl he abandoned to a sorry death. The sheer audacity of this story rests on Garner's willingness to take risks with what might be considered purely macabre. In her proficient writerly hands this grotesque moment becomes ecstatic, so that readers, even while we watch with Raymond the horror of the burning coffin, experience his catharsis.
Something in there was wrinkling. The small end of the coffin, fragile as an eggshell, was crinkling into a network of tiny cracks. While Raymond stared, greedy in his swoon of shock, the panel collapsed; it gave way to the swarming orange argument, and where it had been he saw a dark-cored nimbus of flame, seething, closer to him than an arm's reach. Its twin centres, their shod soles towards them, were her feet. In the passion of their transfiguration they loosened. They opened. They fell apart.
Sacrilegious as it is to tear such a quote out of the context of the story that it transforms, this shows how Garner distinguishes herself, through the mundane and the sacred, as a writer of incredible nerve, magnificent daring.
"Cosmo Cosmolino" is the longest of the three pieces, and controls the direction of the book in its placement and entitlement. From the waiting lurch of death that the other stories pose, it enters the zone of time's passage and concomitant abandonment. "'Poor Chips,' whispered the last of the household's children . . . . 'he died by loneliness.'" And so too is Janet, the story's survivor, the owner of Sweetpea Mansions, dying by loneliness. Her once-humming communal house is empty, and her future savagely constrained by her recognition that she is utterly alone. Into her emptiness arrives a crazy, nimbus-toting artisan of twigs called Maxine, and a no-hoper, born-again labourer called Raymond (from "The Vigil"). Hopeless though they are, they bring a spark of life back to Sweetpea Mansions, where Janet has been skewered on her own cynicism. Hating to have her huge house so empty, she welcomes Maxine and Raymond, and slowly, the three begin to connect with one another, to permit small transformations. Lost and forlorn, they come together under one roof and suffer the blessings of the house. Loony Maxine and sceptical Janet, along with paranoically religious Raymond, await an angel of transformation. By the time Raymond's brother, Alby, arrives, the old wreck of the house has brought them together in the cradle of its shelter, and they seem ready, Maxine pregnant, Raymond broke again, and Janet finally hopeful, to inhabit a new communal world.
The poignancy of the transformation that Garner manages to effect speaks to far more than sentimental longing. Cosmo Cosmolino is shockingly, movingly immediate and transformative. In the hands of a writer with less talent, this situation would be a soggy yearning for the good old days; in Garner's hands the novel becomes an angelic instrument, the music of the spheres through human struggle. The writing, and this book, this patchwork of stories, are simply superlative. Cosmo Cosmolino is an occasion for rejoicing.
Both Hanrahan and Garner address an important fictional history, domestic Australia. Hanrahan's character fiercely refuses to accept changes, yet sweeps along in her pinafore and her dustpan, keeping the country going, organising, stickybeaking, pronouncing while the heavens throw themselves out of whack. Garner's characters too bespeak time's influence, they too reach out to the "small, serious, stone-eyed angels of mercy" for the act of remembering, and of ordering, of how to place the eye and the ear in an evolving history that refuses to release them.
These two 1992 books gesture toward an ambivalent future for the country of domestic remembrance, but even more important, toward a powerful articulation of transformative history and time as its own location.
Aritha van Herk
The University of Calgary
TURNER, GRAEME (1986, 1993) National Fictions: Literature, Film And The Construction Of Australian Narrative. St. Leonards: Allen & Unwin
Seven years is a long time or so it seems. In 1986 when Graeme Turner set out to examine the convergences between filmic and literary narratives in the articulation of "Australianness" he could confidently argue that it "is not an exercise in nationalism but an enquiry into those determinants of narrative which are culturally specific" without feeling embarassed. In 1994 when the Republic and the Olympic games are in the process of consolidating dominant myths of national culture, the book appears to work quite differently.
Therefore I have decided not to reiterate the argument itself or reappraise the importance of the text for its useful accounting of the meanings embedded in certain literary and filmic texts, many of which seem extremely dated or quaint even at this short distance in time e.g. "Breaker Morant," "Sunday Too Far Away," "Bring Larks and Heroes," "For the Term of his Natural Life" etc. (I confess this book reminded me that self-consciously Australian texts are among my least favourite novels and filmically rate as bad choices for a Friday night video.) Instead I will discuss how the changes in the book may account for its re-issue and its renegotation of critical voices in discussions of national culture.
Firstly, the cover has changed from a collage based on the flying Australian flag with easily recognisable black and white images from Australian films and paintings peeping through the five stars of the Southern Cross. The updated version is a straight framing of a painting by the artist Julia Ciccarone (deliberately female and ethnic, perhaps?) of a man lying prostrate on a tiled floor which appears to be suspended in space in order for him to pull a blanket of mountains, typical of Australian ranges across his body. His firm hands grip the mantle of the landscape as if to cover himself almost completely. From the orientation of the spectator behind the head he appears to have no point of view: as he is neither looking into the far distance nor necessarily at the ceiling/sky, he may even have his eyes closed. The heightened surrealism of this cover suggests that there may be something tantalising or more difficult to grasp and see in the representation of nation, than there was in the first edition.
The Second Edition preface warns us of expecting too much; it is not a revision merely a re/presentation with an Afterword which will serve to update us on more recent examples. Turner also clearly addresses those critics who have pertinently and, I presume, vigorously argued that the book's emphasis on narrative inflections and structures particular to this continent can lead to the "anachronistic invocation of an essential national character." But, of course, refutes Turner, understanding our narratives as constructed can show how they participate in "our social powerlessness" or enable "us to overlook the inequities and divisions within our society": a claim for social engagement which seems to go beyond the intentions of this book. On the other hand in the chapter on "Representing the Nation" he insists that "to suggest that one can separate oneself from the construction of national character is to excise one of the major ways of making meaning out of experience within that culture" (124). Nationalism is therefore, of necessity, celebratory and participatory. I would probably not disagree with this but therein lies the problem for critical analysis in a book which sets out to establish a dominant narrative of nation.
The original text carefully threads together two different mediums which involve differing technologies of production and reception and effectively or frequently straddle the high/low culture divide. (Unfortunately, it does not include television which is even more immediately the producer of narratives of nation both through journalistic accounting and its ever-popular dramatisations.) But in this sifting of narratives a familiar pattern emerges--the figure of the hero faced with "the promise of Australia" who finds himself caught between a state of exile and apparent freedom. The land, presumed hostile whether urban or rural, is naturalised out of all proportion to the figure of the individual. It encloses and resists those characters who try to take it on--the battler, the convict, the prisoner, the soldier, the larrikin become mythologised. But here, Turner suggests an ironic twist; as much as Australia celebrates these characters, they exist only in relation to an approving community of mates. In fact, the concept of identity in Australian narrative "depends upon a representation of character which is ideologically opposed to the individual" (87). The ideology of selfhood espoused is instead inflected through the ideal of fraternity as a topos of nationalism. In this way, the narrative focus on independence and individualism in the masculine social type, which serves as a means of normalising and managing other definitions of Australianness.
This ideological fiction is undoubtedly active in the various texts Turner selects but whether they are, in fact, representative texts serving particular ends is open to question. His approach ignores the performative nature of narrative in which the telling is opened up to the interpretation of different readers and viewers. In the situated exchanges of narrative address--who is telling, to whom and how--there are many other available versions of nationhood. Even in the texts he selects it would be possible to articulate the voices of marginality and conflict rather than account for the structural stereotypes. In the concluding chapter he admits to the emergence of non-realist modes of telling which are beginning to change the content of Australian film and fiction and questions the emergence of minority voices telling different stories but however cautions whether they will or have yet changed the narrative thrust of what will count as Australian. Counting is after all what matters in a syncretic project such as the production of national meanings. The book works microscopically on its particular cross-sections of Australian narrative by discounting the production of new or differing mythologies that might substantially unsettle of the dominant topos.
In the Afterword Turner addresses the "contemporary reader" and looks around at these other fields which might impact upon his general argument: "the rich feminist vein," "the revived interest in biography," "the much more established" and "exciting" field of cultural studies, the "new" woman writers, "the influence of multiculturalism," "popular fiction," and the emphasis on the "local" in film. To address any of these seriously would be to write another book, so they are cursorily presented and dismissed as lesser challenges to the idea of the 'nation' being invoked by dominant forms of narrativisation. But in all those fields, arguments about identity, modes of telling and representation have been raging as critical resistances to the depressing sameness of "the men on the bushblock myth" of Australia. The reductiveness of this book in spite of its informed position does homogenise and trivialise the plural possibilities of constructing Australian-ness.
Whilst 'nation' can be hegemonic, Turner and others argue, it is not closed, rather it is heterogeneous and "immensely flexible" and therefore cannot be ignored as a site of struggle. Given the euphoria of election and Olympic wins and the public attention given to agreements over Mabo, with the Queen and with Asian nations, a book such as this is a timely, if depressing, reminder of how consistently national myths can reproduce themselves whether in fiction or criticism or public life. Unfortunately challenges to the dominant 'masculinist narrative tradition' in the project of nation formation can be judged wanting for lack of consideration or institutional endorsement. The promise of the cover is not to be realised for nationalism is far from smothered or asleep; in fact, it is probably about to wake up again.
JOHN CARROLL (Ed.), Intruders In The Bush: The Australian Quest for Identity, Second Edition
This second edition text, edited by John Carroll, explores the historical and sociological conditions of Australian society which have shaped and consolidated images of the Australian persona, intra- and internationally. This examination is principally achieved through an analysis of literary narratives and historical representations as appropriate significations of cultural determination. The text would have been more aptly sub-titled--The Australian Quest for its Male Identity--as a clear emphasis is placed on the masculinised nature of the mythologised national identity. The absence of women as either cultural agents in the creation of, or commentators on, an 'Australian Identity' is acutely evident. The general theses apparent throughout the essays which contribute to the text consistently ignore gender specific issues, concentrating for the most part on class and race boundaries with a determined masculinist discourse. Paradoxically, this text claims an attempt to distinguish an identity which will encompass the unique but culturally diverse nature of Australian society while simultaneously reflecting the historical conditions of the society. As a result many more questions are posed, or ignored, than are answered.
In his forward to the new edition, Carroll informs the reader that while Parts I and II remain unchanged since the 1982 edition, Part III, and additionally the conclusion, are new. In light of the fact that this second edition has been published a full decade after its predecessor, it is alarming to note that seemingly little has changed with regard to the academic perception of the role of women in society. The findings particularly of highly regarded feminist academics on issues of cultural signification are not considered. Except for one notable refutation in J.B. Hirst's "The Pioneer Legend"--when he dismissively 'corrects' feminist claims that women have been portrayed as mere helpmates to men--women are subsumed into the overall identity without any appreciation of their difference within the cultural milieu.
While it has become increasingly necessary to deconstruct the mythologised identity which emerged from the 1890's--in order to posit a more realistic profile accessible to a drastically altered society--the particular bias of the dominant patriarchal discourses which have continued to shape cultural identity remains. The operational discourses of Intruders in the Bush clearly privilege and signify a masculinist position. This is particularly underlined by a shift in discursive formation which occurs as the base premises of the bush/mateship mythologies are deconstructed only to be replaced with more masculinised icons. Prime examples of this are evident in Hirst's offerings: "The Pioneer Legend," and "Multiculturalism--Australia's Absurd History." Hirst remains recalcitrant in his perception of Australian society. As there is now ample evidence emanating from academic engagement with this very important topic, defining and validating the discourses of 'others', there remains the need to incorporate a far more introspective and explorative overview on the problematic question of national identity. As such, it should not be unreasonable to presume that cultural commentators will account for a wide range of discourses in their exploration of cultural production and determination of national identity.
In Part I, "The Classical Legends of Australian Identity," the culturally specific iconography of the bushman, and his rise to prominence in the sight of his countrymen is explored. This section initiates a subsequent deconstructive process with a synopsis of the major points contained in Russel Ward's The Australian Legend, which unfortunately remains an influential text in discussions on the question of national identity. Three subsequent papers further outline the major components of the nationalist mythology: pioneers; bushrangers (specifically Ned Kelly); and the Anzacs. These essays outline the historical significance the 'legends' represent in contributing to a psychological profile of Australians, predominately originating from the late nineteenth century, a period during which nationalism was a prominent question for a colony attempting to disengage itself from the 'mother' country.
Part II opens with a bold statement with regard to the classical legends, from Alan Frost:
Neither the question of whether or not these legends have reality, nor that of their potency, is one of serious enquiry.
Frost is either dismissing those who undertake any serious enquiry into these legends, or is dismissing the impact which these legends have made on the question of national identity. Further there is an underlying premise which clearly invalidates any person who may not identify culturally or spiritually with the Bush and Pioneer, Ned Kelly, or the Anzacs. That is, although the legends may not be very realistic, or applicable to a vast proportion of the population, they remain as valid icons for future Australians. Frost does at least introduce the penal settlement of white Australian society as being significant in its impact on the society and as being consistently distorted by historians. He further dispels some of the mythology surrounding the European perception of the alien landscape, emphasising that not all new arrivals were perplexed by the differences in the flora and fauna of the new land.
The Bush/man and mateship mythologies created by Henry Lawson, et.al, ironically had their 'origins' in the city during the 'crisis' period leading up to Federation. Then, as now, the majority of the population lived in an urban environment. Kenneth Dempsey considers this in "Mateship in Country Towns," when he explores--through a sociological analysis of small country towns--the values and beliefs traditionally associated with the idea of mateship. It is a revealing paper, and he clearly positions his argument as being concerned only with male behavioural patterns within the mateship mythology. Also under discussion in this section is the problematic nature of classical legends, and the need to destabilise previously held perceptions with regard to these legends. However, the discursive formations already referred to, continue to dominate as an investigation of the cultural origins of convicts, the rural/urban dichotomy, and egalitarianism proceeds.
Modern legends and their negation is the theme of Part III as the "post-bushman and post-Anzac" society is considered. The mythologies under scrutiny are: the landscape; multi-culturalism; and politics. Chris Wallace-Crabbe and John Carroll do posit plausible arguments against these myths. Wallace-Crabbe particularly confirms an obligation on the part of those producing representations of Euro Australians, to define the unique landscape as signifying a specific cultural product which impacts upon its inhabitants. It is a thought provoking article, but still fails to consider reasonably the absence of women from the dominant cultural paradigm.
If this text had specifically defined its intentions with regard to the quest for identity, the aims and objectives stated by Carroll in both his introduction and conclusion might have been acceptable. To presume, however, that all groups within Australian society (for example, women and Aboriginal Australians) in some way identify with the mythologies under review is a 'fatal' flaw, still requiring serious critique.
GILLIAN BOTTOMLEY, From Another Place: Migration and the Politics of Culture. Oakleigh, Victoria: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Gillian Bottomley's From Another Place: Migration and the Politics of Culture is an ambitious book, if only because the issues it chooses to address and negotiate (the connections between migrants/migration/power/politics/culture) are truly huge, complex and challenging. Faced with the prospect of dealing, at either a general or specific level, with these and closely related issues such as ethnicity, race, class, gender and age, an author might be well advised to make it clear that any claims were, first and foremost, contingent.
Gillian Bottomley is obviously quite aware of this problem: in fact it is probably fair to say that much of this book is taken up with the difficulty of speaking, in an authoritative way, about the politics of cultural practices. Moreover, Bottomley's theoretical approach is very much informed by--even predicated upon--the work and theories of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, and as a result she does not fall into the trap, common in sociology, anthropology and ethnography, not to mention cultural studies, of taking for granted or even eliding the relation between explanation and power.
How does an anthropologist/sociologist, or anyone else for that matter, 'explain' the politics of cultural practice? To rely too closely on empirical evidence is problematical because, as Bourdieu has so often indicated, empirical evidence is produced out of the beliefs, values, perspectives and ideologies that produce the questions, the frames, the understanding . . . that produce the empirical evidence. We don't have to speak about empirical evidence as simple reproduction/replication (nothing is that straightforward); we do need to remember that empirical evidence explains nothing.
Bottomley is aware of the limitations of empiricism, but also able to heed Bourdieu's advice about the potential usefulness of hard data. This book is not an empirically-grounded study (regardless of the claims made on the cover), but it does make good use of other empirical studies (including Bottomley's own After the Odyssey) in order to back up its own observations, and other observations taken from ethnography and literature, about the ways cultural practices are used to perpetuate and legitimate the domination of groups, on the one hand, or resist that domination, on the other.
The first section of the book, "Migrant studies and the problem of culture," offers a brief description of the ways in which studies of migration and migrants consistently failed to distinguish between migration, ethnicity, race, nationality and culture; that is to say, failed to understand that those 'markers' and their meanings were contingent and not exchangeable. In the second and third sections of the book, Bottomley attempts to speak about practice by making reference to examples of what she calls the 'core' culture of groups, most specifically the core culture of Greek communities in Greece and overseas. She argues that cultural practices are identifiable and decipherable within a general cultural code (Greek, Australian Greek) and simultaneously 'of the moment'--what De Certeau would call 'tactical.'
Cultural codes, traditions and values speak through and produce cultural subjects--this is what Bourdieu designates as 'habitus'--but at the same time the reification of practice and culture always fails because the meaning of a practice is lost as it is practised, even to the subject that enacts it. In this Bourdieu is not just being true to Freudian psychoanalysis and the notion of the unconscious; he is, as scandalous as it might seem to Bourdieu, very much with Lacan in positing the notion of the unconscious as a pre-condition of practice. We can undertake a practice precisely because we understand it as natural; that is to say, the contingencies on which any habitus is based have to be forgotten. In this way, history becomes nature.
Sections two and three of Bottomley's book, making use of exemplifications drawn from the 'core' of certain Greek cultures, examines in some detail the ways in which cultural practices such as dance, music and dowry payments are negotiated both in terms of a general, decipherable habitus, on the one hand, and in terms of a habitus specific to sub-groups based, for instance, on gender and age. These exemplifications, and the explications provided by Bottomley, are always touched by a tension between the power of habitus unconsciously but effectively to produce and regulate behaviour and identities, while at the same time demonstrating just how habitus itself is, again more or less unconsciously, renegotiated and reformed in the face of contingencies of shifting distributions of symbolic and cultural capital. Perhaps the best example of this is the section given over to a study of the ways in which the place of the dowry in Greek cultural tradition both holds its place as, at the very least, a symbolic/discursive cultural reality, while in effect being passed by in practice.
Bottomley's writing on "the case of the dowry" in Greek culture is perhaps the high point of the book, if only because it achieves the quite remarkable feat of demonstrating, as Bourdieu does with his work on the Kabyle, how and why the meanings that anthropologists and others attach to cultural codes and traditions always fail to deliver; that is to say, they miss the point that cultural meaning is always, at bottom, produced through a process of negotiation between system or code and contingency--something that applies as much to Rupert Murdoch's newspapers as it does to Greek families and the question of the dowry.
Having praised Bottomley's book, it must be mentioned that certain sections--particularly those devoted to dance, music and literature--do not strike me as particularly convincing explications or exemplifications of 'practice'. The main problem is that Bottomley at times adheres to a notion of culture that seems to privilege so-called 'creative' work, and we are frequently told--without any evidence--how important literary writers such as Calvino are in demonstrating the nexus between power and culture. This is all very well, but it ignores a good deal of work--Said's, for instance--which demonstrates just how complicit literature has been in practices of repression and domination; and a number of feminists, for instance, would find it difficult to share Bottomley's enthusiasm for overtly patriarchal writers such as Calvino.
Perhaps most critically, Bottomley's enthusiastic privileging of literature and other 'creative', 'core' areas of culture such as dance and music misses Bourdieu's point that "resistance occurs on terrains altogether different from that of culture in the strictest sense of the word . . . and it takes the most unexpected forms, to the point of remaining more or less invisible to the cultivated 'eye'."
One final point of qualification: Bottomley's book does not contain either an introduction or an afterword, and because of this it is a little difficult to work out both the book's intended audience and its specific aims/agendas: an introduction would have gone some way to alleviating this problem. From Another Place would seem, however, to be of interest to sociologists, anthropologists and ethnographers, and more generally to those working in the cultural studies area, and to anyone with an interest in migrants, migration and culture.
University of Central Queensland
JULIE MARCUS, A World of Difference: Islam and Gender Hierarchy in Turkey, St. Leonards (N.S.W.): Allen and Unwin, 1992.
A World of Difference is an outstanding example of theory at work. Besides what it demonstrates about the application of theory to fieldwork, this text, through the presentation and analysis of its subject, is in itself an enactment and an engagement, freeing theory from its own circular abstractions, bringing it to perform in actuality, to make and do. In this text word becomes action.
The intersection of race and gender is not discussed here in some detached and reified way, but 'takes place' through the re-presentation and the deconstruction of a number of related assumptions in such areas as history, knowledge, religion, travel, law, economics and politics. The 'difference' alluded to in the title is first and foremost that between generalized Western preconceptions of Middle Eastern 'women in Islam' and the actualities of the lives and religious practices of a specific group of Turkish Muslim women. Recognition of this kind of disparity precedes discussion of other apparent differences concerning gender, culture or religion, which are then less likely to be misread. Marcus believes there is an urgent need for "a critique of the interactions of gender and sexuality with orientalist racism"(ix), and her book certainly offers a valuable contribution to such a critique, which I, for one, will be glad to see taken up by many more voices.
Marcus not only restricts her observations and analysis to specific sites within an anthropological framework, those of women's religious practices, but also keeps within the limits of 'sites' in the literal sense of physical space and place: women's pilgrimages to particular saints' shrines in and around the city of Izmir. These chosen constraints help her to avoid entering into universalizing questions and comparisons. When comparisons are made, they are introduced only in connection with these specifics and only where they clearly support an already well contended argument. Indeed the problems of comparison are raised constantly and given a central place in the text. And it is partly through discussion of these problems that the text broadens out into questions of theory.
A World of Difference is especially convincing for being extremely well structured. The first four chapters concern the most common Western misconceptions and misrepresentations of 'the East', all of which relate both to Orientalism and to gender issues; for Marcus, Orientalism and the feminization of the East go hand in hand, and race and gender issues cannot be approached separately. Gender is at the heart of the construction of a "racialized east and sexualized, eroticized orient" (29). In these early chapters Marcus discusses Western women who have lived or travelled in the Middle East and the extent to which they recognized, and accepted or rejected, those cultural misrepresentations. She focuses on concrete indications of their attitudes to the places they travelled in: dress, behaviour, choice of action in specific situations and ways of conducting their everyday affairs. She makes some comparisons of individual women with their contemporary male counterparts (Stanhope with Lawrence, Violet Dickson with her husband, Harold), or with other women (Stanhope with Digby). Pointing out the problems of the European women's acceptance of racial hierarchizing assumptions, through which they perceived the status of the Muslim women they encountered, Marcus also speaks honestly of her own struggles with the Western episteme, of the baggage of preconceptions she took with her on her first visit to Turkey. Also in this first section, she makes convincing reference to the Levi-Strauss theory of the relation of cannibalism to ritual transvestism when she refers to travellers' adoption of local Middle Eastern dress. Like the wolf in the tale, Europeans donned "native garb" all the better to "gobble up . . . reality and power." The "authenticity of the other [was] captured through costume, re-presented and taken over" to the point of "ingestion" (44). There are also some interesting and persuasive speculations here about several women travellers who adopted local male clothing and the reasons they may have had for doing so, reasons that often related to the oppression of women in their own, European societies.
The theoretical analysis of the relation of religious beliefs and practices to gender hierarchy focuses not on the hierarchical structure as such, but on the actual ways in which it is realized in practice, on the "set of engendered material relations through which that hierarchy is sustained and enforced." First, however, and to give greater value to this analysis, the European systems of knowledge (and especially historical knowledge) are called to account for their part in promoting--paradoxically--a gender hierarchy they appear to hold in contempt, and for heaping upon religion (Islam) the responsibility for what are perceived as irreconcilable cultural differences headed by that of "the Muslim oppression of women."
In a brief historical sketch of Izmir, the connection Marcus makes between the present-day city and both the ancient city of Smyrna (almost on the same site), whose 'classical' name was used in preference by Europeans for centuries, and the early Christian city of Ephesus (30 miles to the south), is just one of the ways she destabilizes the politically loaded, established European 'history' of the region. According to ancient historians (Thucydides, Herodotus, Strabo) Smyrna was founded by Amazons and named after their leader, but these women were shut out of their city by their male guests in an atrocious breach of hospitality laws, the 'guests' being Ionian Greek conquerors and colonizers in 'disguise'. At this point Marcus reminds her readers that it was the Ionian Greeks who instituted the city-state or polis and ushered in a new epistemological order, that pivot of the modern patriarchal system: secular rationalism.
And the Christian connection? In Ottoman times, so Marcus argues, it was the Jewish and Christian minority communities controlling much of the Ottoman trade with Europe that participated increasingly in the economic decline and weakening polity of Ottoman society, especially by the nineteenth century, which saw the penetration of European industrial capital. The changes that European historians prefer to see as a decline and decadence taking place from within are shown to be the effects of Turkey's gradual absorption into the periphery of Europe's widening net of economic domination. How does this relate to the women? A major argument of this text is that women had rights under the law as well as a form of economic and psychological independence that were eroded by these economic changes. The inroads of European capitalism may well have led "not to the loss of an important role in the household economy for women, but to their restriction to it" (111).
The above is only one of several paradoxes that Marcus exposes, paradoxes that, when recognized, disturb the epistemological power base of Western patriarchal systems as they relate to Middle Eastern societies and to Islam. But there are also the quite different, and in some ways more positive paradoxes of gender separation within patriarchal Islam. What appears to be exclusion is often a form of seclusion that women desire or that, even if not consciously sought, can increase women's power. Gender separation can lead to weakened male control of the female domain through absence and the lack of direct male supervision. Here reference is made to other students of Middle Eastern societies who have proposed that "separate women's worlds might generate separate models of the world"(124) and more space for women's world views. All this is lost when "the European moral critique of Islam aimed at the female domain . . . demand[s] the admission of women to the male spatial domain" (111). Accepted by Turkish modernizers and supported by capitalist politics, such a critique "could only lead to 'reactionary' reassertion of the value of gender hierarchy and separation and to attempts to develop an Islamic form of modernization" (111).
An analysis follows of the gendered allocation of place and space in Turkish society, with models of the carefully balanced intersection of male and female rites, sites and world views. Particularly impressive are, first, the discussion of purity law and pollution as interpreted by men and women in Islam and, second, the observations concerning the related concepts of ritual space, of sacrifice and of stasis and flow as they apply to water and body fluids. Special attention is also paid to the Izmir shrines and their 'saints' (perceived by religious authorities as unorthodox Islam, as 'women's superstition'), and their role in the lives of the Turkish women and in comparison with aspects of the place and role of Marian shrines in Christianity. Precisely because their rites and practices, though tolerated, veer from the 'official line', the women continue to assert their space, whereas in Christianity shrines and pilgrimages are incorporated into orthodoxy, giving less room to manoeuvre.
Both modern Christianity and Western secularization in general make only rhetorical claims of gender egalitarianism, claims which are "refracted through heterosexist racialization onto 'other' peoples" (171). Neither, according to Marcus, is an improvement on the situation of women within Islam or a valid substitution for it, and neither, she argues convincingly, offers a solution to women's oppressions.
MICHALE SPRINKER (ed.), Edward Said--A Critical Reader, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 1992.
As I write this, the News announces the signing of a peace agreement between the PLO and Israel. The TV shows Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shaking hands, with Bill Clinton behind and between them, and I wonder what Said has to say about all this. Barbara Harlow's paper in Edward Said--A Critical Reader, "The Palestinian Intellectual", highlights the importance of Edward Said's political education of the U.S. And now one cannot help but see his work as at least a contribution towards very concrete international recognition of Palestine and Palestinians.
Edward Said's analysis of the construction of the imaginary and geopolitical world into East and West in Orientalism (1978) has provoked lively, often controversial, exchanges. Since the 1970s 'Said' and 'Orientalism' have become instantly recognisable references to a critical discourse which embraces questions of colonization and imperialism, whether they have appeared in Literary Studies or Cultural Studies. Indeed, Said's work has been instrumental in disrupting disciplinary boundaries, so that questions of politics and representation have become inseparable.
The Reader is a vibrant collection of scholarly essays which elaborate different nuances which issue from Said's written work, his academic position, his politics, his cultural positionality, and the ways in which he negotiates these.
In the Introduction Sprinker captures the widespread fascination for almost anything Said says, writes, or does by referring to his status as a "cosmopolitan intellectual." There are 10 chapters and 12 contributors. It is a wonderful collection of dense and rigorous analysis, which covers cultural studies, anthropology, politics, literature, and history.
The first chapter written by Nubar Hovsepian, "Connections with Palestine," looks at how Said expresses exile as a way of living a duality. The importance of his status as exile recurs in Abdul R. JanMohamed's paper, "Worldliness-without-world, homelessness-as-home: toward a definition of the specular border intellectual," Chapter 5. JanMohamed distinguishes between two different kinds of intellectuals in exile. There is the syncretic intellectual, who combines elements of the old, left-behind culture and the new culture, so as to articulate new syncretic forms and experiences. There is also the specular border intellectual who is not 'at home' in mainstream society. "Caught between several cultures or groups, none of which is deemed sufficiently enabling or productive, the specular intellectual subjects the culture to analytic scrutiny" (97). Said is placed in this category. JanMohamed discusses the multiple positionality of the exile, and how it accounts for Said's aporias, especially as evident in Orientalism. In Chapter 6, "Antinomies of exile: Said at the frontiers of national narrations," Ella Shohat quotes Said as referring to the "privilege of exile" (137) which gives one multiple ways of seeing things, each corresponding to the places one has been. Benita Parry, in Chapter 2, explains how Said has multiple detachments and indicates that he occupies a hybrid discursive position. JanMohamed captures the use-value of the state of homelessness in the way Said redefines 'criticism', an over-determined, emotionally charged term already over-used in literary and cultural studies, in order to shock critics into re-examining their practices and assumptions and into abandoning their 'home', that is, the ideological attitudes constraining a freer, more 'neutral' pursuit of knowledge" (111). Ella Shohat, who also writes "as an 'Oriental,' as an Arab Jew" (122), emphasises the connection of Said's political commitment with his academic work, and analyses his most outraged critics. She points out that the (mostly Jewish and largely Zionist) New York academic circle approves of Said's 'good' (canonic) writing, while feeling threatened by his very Arabness, his Palestinianness, his familiarity with people like Arafat. She brilliantly locates where and why these reactions occur: in the historical possession by post-Holocaust Jews of the discourse of exile and displacement, which had justified the territorial claims for Palestine. Said uses the same discourse of oppression, exile, and displacement. Shohat describes how this betrayal of the Zionist discourse which constructs a Jewish victimizer leads to "epistemological vertigo" (134).
Hovsepian gives a brief history of Palestine since 1948 and shows how it directly affected Said personally and Middle Eastern Arabs politically. He describes how Said sought to find a space to articulate an Arab Palestinian narrative. Said's connection with Palestine is not only as a homeland but also as an adversarial idea in both the West and the East. Said wrote The Arab Portrayed, followed by Orientalism while a Fellow at Stanford in 1967-1968. These formed the essence of both The Question of Palestine (1979) and Covering Islam (1981). This trilogy lays out Said's conceptual framework for analysing relationships between the East and the West.
Hovsepian interlaces Said's written work with his public political involvements to show how Said is part of a larger struggle for human rights in both the Arab world and the Americas. Most of the contributors work and re-work the nexus between Said the intellectual and writer, and Said the committed political spokesperson, which is underscored by the unsettling image of Said the Star. While each contributor has a unique approach, most contexualize Said's Orientalism with his Beginnings (1975) and his theory and method with his "Travelling Theory" (The World, The Text, and The Critic, 1983).
Benita Parry analyses Said's ambivalence toward Raymond Williams, in that he uses Williams' model of 'culture' as a superstructure while addressing its "stubborn Anglocentrism." And yet Said continues to examine the 'great' novels of the British Empire, but does so in order to challenge dominant readings of these texts. Similarly, Tim Brennan, in Chapter 4, "Places of Mind, Occupied Lands: Edward Said and Philology", explains that the point of Said's work, especially in Orientalism, is "that one learns from the imperialist intellectuals of the past not simply by warding them off like demons, but by assuming their outward forms" (78). This problem is somewhat clarified in Ferial J. Ghazoul's article, "The resonance of the Arab-Islamic heritage in the work of Edward Said." Ghazoul looks at the centrality of the metaphor of the text in Islam, as a mode of interpretation of the world around the text, the Koran, and how that kind of "critical attitude towards the 'text', [which] preserves it as an activity and not as a cult object. . . . Said humanizes--or makes worldly--the texts by rendering them pertinent to human experience" (pp 165-166). This is why Said feels free to study canonical texts. "He does not thoughtlessly reproduce his culture (Arabic or American); he strives to produce a new system that would correct not only the Zionist tribalism by which his people have been victimized, but also Arab parochialism" (Ghazoul: 170).
This concern with recurring ambiguities in Said and his work is also taken up by Bruce Robbins in Chapter 3, "The East is a Career: Edward Said and the Logics of Professionalism." Robbins says that "professional careers are made, the logic goes, by representing those whom the career-maker keeps from representing themselves" (50). In other words, the act of domination is repeated. Said's Orientalism quotes Disraeli as saying "The East is a career" and Robbins repeats this phrase in context of the Third World being a career for many professionals, implying that the East has, indeed, become a career for Said. Brennan shares this cynicism in mentioning "subtle forms of essentialism, now rampant in university hiring practices, by which scholars with "Third World" ethnic backgrounds are considered automatic authorities on non-Western literature and cultures" (84). Robbins investigates this problem by looking at other scholars, like Levi-Strauss and Malinowski, who were accused similarly, and what this all means in terms of representation and disciplinary boundaries. Robbins uses Foucault, and the position of his academic writing, which is firmly within the academy, to illustrate the political value of Said's intellectual work and the value of his 'worldliness'. He explains how just as Foucault addressed an academic audience, his work still questioned and disrupted discourses of power. Similarly Said accomplishes action in a professional "position that, falling short of the ideological purity of homelessness, [he] receives in exchange a purchase on the world" (63). Robbins suggests that academics should acknowledge that "metropolitan culture" must be opposed, from within and with its own tools, so as to oppose the "nationalist elite" with "the suppressed native voice."
Reading through all these critical analyses of Said's work is refreshingly challenging, and it is rewarded at the end with the "Interview with Edward Said" with Jennifer Wicke and Michael Sprinker. Said gives biographical detail of life and politics in Egypt, especially Cairo, and he refers to an autobiographical memoir he is working on. He talks about nationalism and the need for secularism. And, of course, he talks about Palestine, making prophetic observations about territorial negotiations with Israel. Said also emphasises the need for academics to generalize, to move beyond disciplinary boundaries into political movement. The interview sweeps eloquently through major considerations, like nationalism, canonical works, narrativization, and Marxism.
As a final note, it is worth mentioning that the subsequent publication of Said's Musical Elaborations (1992 in paperback) and Culture and Imperialism (1993) in no way make this Reader redundant.
As far as the publisher's editorial practices are concerned, it is a pity to find, at first glance, two typographical errors (50, 239) and an unclosed bracket (133).
The Reader is really expensive. Most students cannot afford a $45 book, unless it is an indispensable primary text. Even Said's latest book, Culture and Imperialism, retails for $39.95 in hard cover.
SALLY MUNT (ed.), New Lesbian Criticism: Literary and Cultural Readings. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
When New Lesbian Criticism appeared in my pigeonhole, a "Great (Lesbian) Tradition"--complete with separatist utopias, countless heroines and written by Radicalesbians with names such as Moon Lightfingers and Saphire Dykewomin--began to haunt me.
In many ways my dilemma concerned the intersection between this mid-seventies mode of lesbian writing (with its appeal to an authentic and pure lesbian 'essence' and its celebration of a heroic and sanitized community of sisters) and the anti-essentialist, deconstructive moves of the postmodern nineties.
I was relieved to find that the writings in New Lesbian Criticism addressed these problematics. The validity of a universal, essentialist or transhistorical identity such as 'lesbian' was strongly challenged as were notions of sexual essentialism. Questions of (a specifically lesbian) subjectivity and the limits of identity politics were also explored.
New Lesbian Criticism presents a selection of close literary readings of a diverse collection of lesbian texts, representative of historic 'moments' in Lesbian Consciousness, including : Audre Lordes' biomythography Zami, the 'lesbian pulp' novels of the 1950s (for example, Ann Bannon's Beebo Brinker series), the Utopian The Wanderground, the highly parodic (and extremely funny) novels of Sarah Schulman, the BBC adapted 'cult' text Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and the sexually transgressive Macho Sluts.
My personal favourite was Sally Munt's, "somewhere over the rainbow. . . Postmodernism and the Fiction of Sarah Schulman," in which Munt examines the way(s) that Schulman exploits postmodern strategies of parody and excess by liberating, multiplying and playing with identity. For in Schulman's novels one-dimensional characters with shared and uncontradictory lesbian identities are nowhere to be found. Abandoning the political realism/'positive images' school of lesbian fiction, Schulman constructs a "lesbian identity around the landscape of a modern urban condition--changing, fluid, complex and fragmented . . ." (p35). Yet Schulman's fiction does not display the de-politicizing tendencies that one might expect. A strong political impetus, and sense of political responsibility, is present in all of her books, particularly so in People in Trouble, which sets up resistance (to the AIDS crisis) as its central theme.
I also thoroughly enjoyed reading Angela Weir's and Elizabeth Wilson's article, "The Greyhound Bus Station in the Evolution of Lesbian Popular Culture," which uses 'lesbian pulp' novels from the 1950s to explore the more radical and liberating aspects of fifties culture. Like other retrospective accounts (most notably that of Joan Nestle) this analysis challenges the dominant 1980s notion of the fifties butch/'imitation man' and the 'frigid femme' as well as contradicting the myth of the fifties as an era of seamless repression and bland suburban conformity. Instead, as Weir and Wilson argue, these 'dime novels' reflect the intense cultural, social and sexual contestations and ambiguities of the time.
Current struggles about correct and incorrect sexualities (within lesbian subculture/s at least) are also taken up in Lisa Henderson's chapter, "Lesbian Pornography: Cultural Transgression and Sexual Demystification." In this essay Henderson traces connections between the "salvation motive" (or protection ideology) of current anti-pornography politics and mass-culture critiques of the 1940s and 1950s. Framed by the lesbian/feminist 'sex Wars' of the last decade or so, Henderson reads Pat Califia's Macho Sluts and various stories from On Our Backs ("Entertainment for the adventurous lesbian") as culturally transgressive or resistant texts which demystify s/m practices. While an interesting introduction to the field, to anyone well-versed in the porn:anti-porn/lesbian sadomasochism debate, Henderson's paper runs along well-worn grooves. Henderson's constant references to her "uncertain" position within the "sex debates"--at least four times in the first two pages--also seemed to detract from her argument.
Overall, New Lesbian Criticism is not so much a definitive nor historical theorization of a lesbian critical aesthetic as a reassessment, and exploration, of the field. If old lesbian criticism was concerned with analyses of surfaces--the desire for "positive lesbian images/role models"--then new lesbian criticism, influenced as it is by deconstructive and poststructuralist modes of analysis, will move beyond the notion of the text as delivering a direct and uncontradictory message. In this task New Lesbian Criticism (with its apt working title Dykonstruction) does not fall short.
Kristen de Kline
PAM MORRIS, Literature and Feminism. Oxford, Blackwell, 1993.
Literature and Feminism is designed to be an introductory reader that emphasises "feminist literary criticism as an empowering practice of reading" (ix), and makes certain complex theories and debates available to those who may have no previous knowledge of them.
The book is divided into two parts, "Literature?" and "Feminism?". The question marks in the titles foreground the idea that any attempts to define these terms remain partial and plural. Differing styles of feminist criticism are presented in the form of chronological surveys dating from the late sixties, and include summaries and critiques of the work of prominent theorists. Morris illustrates these theoretical approaches and their potential for feminist literary criticism with original readings and discussions of a wide range of women's writing. The pedagogical value of this book is enhanced by this style of presentation and the inclusion of lists of further reading and a glossary of terms.
Through her readings, Morris provides a useful introduction to what has become a canon of literary works by women for English speaking students. Although discusion of Woolf, Plath and George Eliot looms large, to its credit, Morris' canon includes the work of women like Nawal El Saadawi who have not figured in the Anglo-European focus of much feminist criticism. The book opens with the issue of feminist challenges to the male literary canon, and patriarchal domination of critical, reviewing and teaching practices. Unfortunately it is not until the final chapter that the re-emergence of similar issues in lesbian, black and class oriented criticisms of white, western, middle-class feminism is given due attention.
The pervasive issues in Literature and Feminism are the problematics of identity and the politics of aesthetic style: specifically the valorization of either realist or avant-garde texts. The framing of these debates as the most pressing is questionable from the point of view of the current emphasis on issues of class and race. At times I feel that this book would have been more illustrative of feminist criticism as an 'empowering practice' if Morris had interspersed her summaries and readings with a more polemical voice.
Morris' readings of Spenser's Faerie Queene and Middlemarch by George Eliot, among other texts, work well to illustrate how women readers are positioned complicitly with images of women as either chaste and virtuous or treacherous and monstrous unless they resist the narrative point of view and the logic of the plot structure. Including women writers in this discussion emphasises that charges of literary misogyny cannot be made on a simple gender basis.
I particularly like the inclusion of Jacqueline Rose's theory about the "prescriptive and moralizing tradition of criticism" (42) originating with T.S. Eliot. In this tradition deviant or excessive possibilities of meaning are controlled by the imposition of unified readings, that often include moralistic fixation on deviant or excessive sexuality in female characters. Morris' "symptomatic reading" (16) of male critics provides an ironic view of the fear and insecurity a potentially uncontrolled female sexuality can inspire in the male critic. Though he may seem from this perspective a pathetic figure, the male critic's contribution to the construction of the feminine as "a narcissistic mirror to reflect the fullness and feeling of a subjective masculine humanity" (26), is a serious business in the light of certain histories of the bloody and tyrannical control of women.
Morris criticizes the impetus in Showalter and Gilbert and Gubar to find forms of unmediated, female 'truth' in women's writing, and their inadequacy in dealing with non-realist forms. She provides an accessible explanation of the problems associated with the assumption that women's fictional writing provides a true account of women's experiences.
Traditionally, a "reflectionist" way of perceiving literature, as offering unmediated truth about human experiences, has functioned to make biased, even misogynistic, views seem universal or natural (to naturalize them), as just the way things are . . . all representation has to be seen as the site of ideological contestation . . . (65).
Morris eschews the viability of a women's aesthetic in favour of an aesthetics of opposition most obvious in parody, but also found in the embracing of eclectic styles.
Working within an unsympathetic cultural tradition, women writers have turned their very anger into a source of creativity, have laughed away the female monsters threatening them in male texts, wittily reshaped male canonical forms, reworked old myths, turned apparent conformity into artistic innovation and boldly challenged high culture on its own ground. (83)
The bulk of Part II is a review of the French theoretical enterprise. Question-marking "Feminism" is an appropriate strategy for this section because, paradoxically, the "French Feminists" do not necessarily identify with the label 'feminist', and fierce challenges to assumptions guiding the "Anglo-American tradition" of feminist criticism have been launched from this realm. These challenges inform Morris' careful criticism of any essentialist or reflectionist naivete in the early and still relevant trends in feminist criticism with which she engages in Part I.
Brief introductions to the work of Freud, Lacan, Derrida, Foucault and Bakhtin provide the relevant wider theoretical contexts for reading Irigaray, Cixous and Kristeva, and for engaging with influential theories. What is most of value in Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, according to Morris, is that they both stress "the unstable and provisional nature of all subjective identity" (107).
Morris points to the celebratory and positive tone with which Irigaray and Cixous contest discursive realms in which "the feminine term is killed or erased" (118). When Morris writes that Irigaray is aiming "for a way of theorizing and representing the specificity of 'femininity'--of women's sexual identity in positive terms," her use of the concepts of representation and women's sexual identity, which she critiques elsewhere, opens the way to the charges of essentialism that Irigaray's work attracts. Ecriture feminine can be understood as politically effective if thought of as oppositional: as a strategy that constructs possibilities for a positive, and thus subversive, femininity within language. Morris quotes Cixous:
A feminine text cannot fail to be more than subversive. . . . If she's a her-she, it's in order to smash everything, to shatter the framework of institutions, to blow up the law, to break up the "truth" with laughter (121).
Morris comments briefly on the privileging of the masculine avant-garde canon in Kristeva's theorization of the feminine. This privileging is true also, however, of Cixous' textual practice.
Morris' readings function as examples of possibilities for feminist readings and foreground the necessary relationship of literary critique to theoretical positions. The poems of H.D. are read as articulating a "dialogism between frustrated desire and social forms of language" (152) in the context of a discussion of Kristeva. These readings are forceful in the chapter on reading as a woman, but Morris' ability to approach literary texts from a variety of theoretical vantage points without a potitical voice of her own can, at worst, trivialise the vital politics of feminist literary practice.
A form of essentialist biologism, Morris points out, can be read in Cixous' desire for a return to the libidinal desires of the body. As I see it, a form of essentialism seems to be central to much psychoanalytic discourse. Its reliance on a universal psychic apparatus; a castrated, engulfing or idealized mother; and the monolithic, repressive agency of symbolic language validates the criticism that it is ahistorical and acultural. As Morris puts it:
Psychoanalytic theory, which underlies much of this (poststructuralist) thinking, utilizes the Oedipal myth, taken from classical western cultures, to provide a universal narrative of gender construction for the whole of the human species and for the whole of history (159).
Foucault's approach to the workings of power and control in specific socio/historical discourses can be useful as a counterbalance, Morris suggests, to the conservative and ahistorical tendency within poststructuralism. She affirms the need to relate "sexuality and identity to social and historical reality" (131). For this purpose I would have liked a wider coverage of the material presented in chapter seven: "A Return to Women in History: Lesbian, Black and Class Criticism." Morris acknowledges the relevance of this work:
In fact, black lesbian and working-class feminists have articulated the current debates within feminism over identity, canon construction and the politics of aesthetics in their most urgent forms (165).
The influence of French poststructuralism is strong in the work of lesbian critics like Monique Wittig and Bonnie Zimmerman who criticise the essentialism inevitable in the impetus to create a positive lesbian identity based on maternal, female qualities. But even Wittig, according to Morris, constructs a lesbian identity that "slides out of history," is "totalizing, even mythic" (172), thus repressing real differences among lesbians. In contrast, Zimmerman's concept of a "notional" lesbian identity provides the possibility for political struggle in terms of a shared knowable identity
based on a firmly historical perception of "self" as always "a shifting matrix of behaviours, choices, subjectivities, textualities, and self-representations" (174).
Morris aligns this idea of notional identity with a textual aesthetic practiced by Jeanette Winterson and Audre Lorde that encompasses realist and avant-garde styles. Such writing bridges arguments about textual aesthetics.
Afro-American women writers, up until the 1980s, were silenced, Barbara Smith writes, by "all segments of the literary world--whether establishment, progressive, black, female, or lesbian" (176). Similarly, 'third-world' women have been ignored, stereotyped or marginalized within postcolonial movements towards reconstructing national history and identity. Gayatri Spivak, like Zimmerman, promotes the construction of strategic identity for visible political interests.
Morris points out that psychoanalytic and poststructural theory freed Marxist criticism from its exclusive attachment to realist literature and has also been conducive to Marxist-feminist criticism. However, it is only through attention to the historical, class and cultural specificities of particular groups of women that essentializing constructions can be avoided in Marxist-feminism. Morris' original contribution to theory is offered when she discusses the complete lack of "any sustained study of a white, working-class woman" (185) in Marxist feminist literary criticism.
Morris' book provides an informative introduction to feminist literary debates. However, her privileging of the French theorists and the prominent (their names appear in chapter titles) grouping of Cixous, Irigaray and Kristeva reinforces a now well established canonizing gesture and performs a remarginalization of the women who have always been most marginal: lesbian, black and working class women. The last chapter deals all too briefly with the challenges these women have instigated against aspects of deconstruction and poststructuralist theory. If the aim of this book is to present feminist literary criticism as an empowering practice of reading, Morris' fetishization of the French enterprise threatens to undermine this aim.
There is a certain white, middle-class pathos in Morris' final question: "Is some sense of 'I', even if only strategic (perhaps best of all when known as strategic, as a fiction) necessary to assume a voice at all?" Toni Morrison considers the total dislocation and loss of identity wrought by slavery as the example of postmodern fragmentation (177). She shamelessly reverses the postmodern celebration of fragmented identity.
GORDON COLLIER, (ed.) Us/Them: Translation, Transcription and Identity in Post-Colonial Literary Cultures. Cross/Cultures 6. Rodopi (Amsterdam--Atlanta) 1992
GILLIAN WHITLOCK AND HELEN TIFFIN, (eds.) Re-Siting Queen's English: Text and Tradition in Post-Colonial Literatures. Cross/Cultures 7. Rodopi (Amsterdam--Atlanta) 1992
Postcolonial literature and analysis have been subject to increasing attention in the past decade as the twin moves of formerly colonised peoples to enunciate the politics of the colonial past, and to speak themselves, their interests and their current struggles, have found a place on the critical and political agenda. The Cross/Cultures series, volumes 6 and 7 of which are reviewed here, are part of the present drive to explore the issues of postcoloniality, and to provide a space for postcolonial writers and theorists to represent themselves.
Volume 6, edited by Graham Collier, includes an eclectic range of works which seek to redress perceived imbalances in the field of literary production and analysis. It comprises a collection of articles, interviews, short stories, poetry, and autobiographical writing, all of which focus on some area of difference. The individual works seem somewhat uneven in the level of their theoretical rigour, and in the attention paid to the politics of speaking/writing. However, while collectively they tend to be theoretically naive, they make several useful points, and thereby provide valuable insights--or at any rate, reminders--for theorists in the field.
The book is divided into seven sections which are loosely based on geography. The first section deals with Polynesia; the second explores facets of Canadian multiculturalism; there are sections on India, the Caribbean, Africa, and Australia; and finally, the appendix, which contains two fluid, haunting short stories, which, for me, highlight the thesis of the book: the impossibility of constituting the self without a notion of otherness; and ways in which the heterogeneity of lived experience breaks down rigid boundaries and binaries.
Perhaps one of the more interesting features of Collier's book is the juxtapositioning of fiction and theory, since this serves to underline the importance of practice, and the function of stories in constructing alternative realities. This latter point is, indeed, central to the thesis of the book, which explores the political consequences of the ways in which 'realities' are constituted in and by language(s), and through stories.
A useful point (and I consider it one of the more important ones) made in this book, is that of the dangerous ground on which postcolonial theory is based. This is seen in the current interest in difference, and in the position of those on the margins, an interest exemplified by the official, fashionable policy of promoting 'multiculturalism,' and summed up by Smaro Kamboureli as "difference is sexy" (53).
While this "attraction of the margins" may be useful in putting marginal interests onto the political agenda, it can, and often does, serve to recolonise ethnic and marginalised groups. Difference tends to be appropriated by the dominant, and marginal groups are thereby commodified, iconised, and "codified" (Kamboureli, 61).
Thus the book focuses on the issue of "who speaks, for whom, and by what authority?," a question Kay Schaffler asks in her essay (373). The neglect of such questions has led to a tendency, among Western theorists, to homogenise the 'Third World', and to ignore the plurality of peoples, interests, contexts, that exist there; to elide heterogeneity in the (unspoken) interest of maintaining the binary opposition Us/Them and its concomitant power relations (Schulze-Engler, 322).
While the book overall has a rather naive theoretical approach, and tends to simplify and/or essentialise the issues and positions articulated, it provides an example of theory as practice, and ensures that several central issues in postcolonial theory and practice stay on the critical agenda.
Volume 7, edited by Whitlock and Tiffin, contains a range of articles which analyse and critique literary texts, as well as an autobiographical narrative by James Wieland, and, finally, a somewhat eulogistic biography of academic John Matthews, who mentored all the contributors to this volume.
This text addresses many of the issues raised in Volume 6, and 'practises' them by using them as analytical tools in the reading of literary texts. The articles are not categorised as clearly as those in Volume 6, but nonetheless, there is a sort of pattern to the arrangement of the essays. The first section critiques literary texts by women writers, and generally foregrounds the "double displacement" which is produced by the combination of gender and race, gender and class, gender and ethnicity. Further, these essays show clearly the silencing of women's voices in colonial and postcolonial texts, and the eliding, until very recently, of the effects of gender on both coloniser and colonised (Whitlock, 12).
Where Volume 6 deals extensively with difference, the latter section of Whitlock and Tiffin's text seems to focus more on multiplicity, and on the breaking down of metanarratives. Thus, many of the essays discuss the value of local stories, local contexts, and local truths as counter-hegemonic practices (Ferrier, 157), which work to subvert and destabilise the centre. This point is exemplified in Adam Shoemaker's essay on the various attempts in Australia and Canada to construct a sense of nationalism through the invention of symbols which signify identity, and the way in which the emergence of regionalism tends to defeat the former project. It is expanded and theorised again, in what was for me the most useful and interesting essay in the text, Elizabeth Ferrier's discussion of postcolonial issues in her reading of Jessica Anderson's novel through poststructural theorists, notably Jameson, Lyotard and de Certeau.
As with Volume 6, this book tends to be somewhat 'light' theoretically, and many of the essays concentrate on an often limited, or intuitive, reading of the literary texts concerned. Thus, for me at any rate, they lack the theoretical reflexivity that would make the book generally more useful for educators and researchers in this field. However, several of the essays make particularly strong claims for an alternative reading of history, literature, and theory, and propose an agenda for radical change. Thus they promote heterogeneity and multiplicity, and serve as a move in the process of breaking down the logocentric, patriarchal, hegemonic discourses that still work to silence 'alternative' voices.
Faculty of Arts
University of Central Queensland
Impressions of VASSO KALAMARAS' play Karagiozis Down-Under, Old Customs House, Fremantle, February, 1992
In February this year, a play, Karagiozis Down-Under, written by the acclaimed writer Vasso Kalamaras was performed in English at the Old Customs House Theatre in Fremantle. With Vasso, I share both a professional and a personal friendship which began when I did some study on her prose works. The staging of this play gave me a unique opportunity to travel West, combining business and pleasure, as it were. And business and pleasure it certainly was. Spending a week-end with Vasso and her sculptor husband, Leonidas, proved a truly memorable experience.
At the premiere, a large section of Perth's theatre-goers was present, headed by Western Australia's Minister of Culture, Kay Hallahan. The audience was predominantly Anglo-Australian, indicative perhaps of the acceptance of Vasso Kalamaras as a writer not constricted by any categorisation.
Vasso has drawn her inspiration from our traditional shadow puppet theatre of Karagiozis several times in the past, especially with O [[Kappa]][[alpha]][[rho]][[alpha]][[gamma]][[kappa]][[iota]][[sigma]][[zeta]][[ea]][[varsigma]] [[pi]][[lambda]][[omicron]][[upsilon]][[sigma]][[iota]][[omicron]][[varsigma]]--i>Karagiozis is rich (an adaptation of Aristophanes' play [[Pi]][[lambda]][[omicron]][[nu]][[tau]][[omicron]]s--Riches), which was performed in both Sydney and Canberra a few years ago, and Karagiozis the Milkbarist. Social injustice, the class struggle, an inability by politicians to offer solutions are arguably both diachronic and inter-ethnic. Consequently, contemporary theatre cannot be cut-off from the past, as long as it does not simply imitate, but revives and enriches the tradition, adapting it to our own equally troubled times.
In Karagiozis Down-Under, the eponymous character is a Greek migrant who manages to get a position as an interpreter to the prime minister of the country, Mr "Vulture". This is not so much because of his real ability, but because he is a member of one of the largest minority groups, which spells more votes for the government. Karagiozis is accompanied by all the main characters of the traditional shadow theatre: his long-suffering wife, Aglaia; his children the Kollitiria; Hatziavatis, the quintessentially subservient type who bows continually in front of the prime minister; Barbayiorgos who wants to return to his village in Greece to find a bride; Stavrakas, the tough urban guy, and others.
The characters are introduced on stage by a song which indeed serves as an introduction to their special characteristics, especially for an Anglo-Australian audience who would not be familiar with such characters. The humour is verbal and visual creating much laughter among the audience. The verbal humour causes many comic situations; Aglaia, for example, hits Karagiozis relentlessly when she hears him sing passionately about his "dolly" which turns out to be none other than the dole he gets when he is unemployed. Karagiozis is as foul-mouthed and vulgar as ever, but some truth always emanates from his vulgarity, as for example when he wonders why children do not come into this world with "sewn-up bums and mouths" so that they won't need to eat. Some comic elements caused by the idiosyncratic speech of the various characters, such as Barbayiorgos, Sior-Dionysios, Omorfonios and Stavrakas cannot, naturally, be sustained in the English translation, but by the right tone and mannerisms, the actors manage to convey their particularity.
Visual humour, however, predominates in the play with a lot of lively action and slap-stick leaving the actors, especially the actor who plays the lead role of Karagiozis, sweating profusely. This element, far from being a weakness, is, in fact, a strong point, as slap-stick was the predominant factor in the traditional theatre of Karagiozis.
John Saunders, the director of the play, managed admirably to convey to an Anglophone public this adaptation of a traditional form of Greek theatre, helped by a team of talented young actors headed by the superb Steve Shaw in the lead role. These actors showed that they could enter the spirit of an old theatrical tradition of Greece, despite the fact that this type of theatre was a closed book to most of them. The production and the sets of Karagiozis Down-Under are Tolis Papazoglou's work. He cleverly put the stage in the middle with the audience sitting around it, giving it a multi-dimensional perspective.
Actually, I find it rather symbolic that this play was performed in the Old Customs House in Fremantle, the building which saw the arrival of all migrants, especially during the mass migration years, as they filed out of ships seeking a new life in this country.
Something which also moved me deeply was the music of the play, written by the Western Australian Philip Griffin. Assisted by two young Tasmanian musicians, Anne Hildyard and Rob Bester, he accompanied the action with traditional Greek instruments, such as gaida, lauto, daouli, pontian lyra, zurna and others. From the moment we walked into the theatre, a sweet, melodious sound, infused with lament, welcomed us, a sound which transported me to another world, a long time ago, when a child was taken to a mountain village of northern Greece in search of her roots.
With her vibrant adaptation of an old tradition of Greek theatre, and the assistance of these fine musicians who are renewing an old form of Greek music, Vasso Kalamaras has succeeded in perpetuating Greek art in Australia, as well as in instilling new breath into contemporary Australian theatre.
It is also of considerable importance that Vasso is a bilingual writer who writes all her work first in Greek subsequently translating it into English. This way she promotes and encourages the use of more than one language, an asset which is highly desirable in a country with a multicultural policy. In addition, through her teaching of Greek to English speakers (something Vasso has been doing effectively for the last twenty years) she contributes directly to the dissemination of the Greek language and art to the wider Australian public.
La Trobe University
New: 13 December, 1996 | Now: 22 April, 2015