Postcolonial Pacific Writing: Representations of the Body

By Michelle Keown | Go to book overview

5

Remoulding the body politic

Keri Hulme's The Bone People

Where Alistair Campbell's writing explores cortico-visceral dysfunction largely at a personal or microcosmic level, Keri Hulme's The Bone People (1983)-the primary focus of discussion in this chapter-investigates pyscho-social dysfunction as an expression of a broader cross-cultural disharmony within New Zealand society. This chapter considers the novel's movement from sublimated colonial violence to public resolution and socio-somatic regeneration with particular reference to Frantz Fanon's influential discussion of cultural and political nationalism in The Wretched of the Earth (1961), arguing that a new post-imperial nationalist imperative emerges from the suffering and conflict which afflicts the three central characters in Hulme's text.

Since winning the 1985 Booker McConnell prize for The Bone People (1983), Keri Hulme has become one of New Zealand's most internationally renowned literary figures. In addition to her novel, Hulme has produced a short story collection, Te Kaihau/The Windeater (1986b) and three volumes of poetry, The Silences Between (Moeraki Conversations) (1982), Lost Possessions (1985), and Strands (1992), but the majority of critical commentaries on Hulme have engaged specifically with her prize-winning novel. Much critical attention has also been focused upon the author herself, from studies analysing the autobiographical elements of The Bone People (particularly the correspondences between Hulme and her fictional counterpart Kerewin Holmes), 1 to arguments over Hulme's status as a 'Māori' writer, given her mere one-eighth proportion of Māori blood and her ostensibly European physiognomy. 2 Hulme's dilemma is the inverse of Alistair Campbell's: while choosing to identify herself as Māori, she has throughout her life been labelled as Pākehā on the basis of her physical appearance, and these personal experiences inflect her exploration of the disparity between specular and biologically determined (or elective) identities in a wide selection of her writing. In The Bone People, for example, Hulme's fictional counterpart Kerewin Holmes-whose physical description and genealogy (a mix of Māori, Orkney Scots and English ancestry) match Hulme's almost exactly, as do her verbal dexterity and creative energies-expresses frustration at the fact that she feels compelled, upon

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