Journal of the European Association for Studies of Australia (JEASA), Vol.7 No.2, 2016.
Writing Space in the Plural: New Australian Geographies in Murray Bail’s Fiction
Abstract: Like other postcolonial writers, the contemporary author Murray Bail has manifested a persistent concern with the relationship between the notion of place, which has thematically dominated Australian literature since its inception, and the issue of cultural identity at large. In the footsteps of Patrick White, his literary mentor, Bail has, in particular, repeatedly sought to dispel the so-called myth of the Great Australian Emptiness and the various cultural stereotypes it has ramified into, with a view to demonstrating that his homeland has more to offer than the geographical and ontological blankness to which it has all too often been reduced. In Bail's work, the construction of an alternative national mythology arguably proceeds from a radical reconceptualisation of the local landscape. As a visual writer, he has notably tended to rely on the motif of the straight line (seen as a Western legacy) not only to reconfigure the Australian space, but also to position himself towards the old imperial power. In this essay, I propose to outline the paradigmatic shift apparent in Bail's fiction, from his early writings, in which his view of space admittedly remains either mythical or dual, to more recent texts that can be said to transcend previous representational stereotypes and binaries. In this context, I intend to show that while Holden's Performance (his second novel published in 1987) opposes-to parodic ends-highly geometric urban centres to non-linear natural environments, Eucalyptus (1998) and The Pages (2008) seem to gesture towards a more inclusive kind of spatial imagination, which strives to embrace linearity (i.e. to incorporate it into more complex re-mappings of Australia) instead of merely discarding it.
Keywords: Murray Bail, space, linearity, garden metaphor
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