Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Abjection and Compassion: Affective Corporeality in Patrick White's Fiction

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Abjection and Compassion: Affective Corporeality in Patrick White's Fiction

Article excerpt

Summary

This article argues that the seemingly disparate affective and corporeal sensations of abjection and compassion significantly inform the fiction of Australian modernist, Patrick White. Focusing in particular on White's early novel The Living and the Dead ([1941]1977), a work often sidelined in critical discussions of his writing, it maintains that the dialectical tension between abjection and compassion that fascinates White informs his representations (and troubling) of subjectivity from the beginning of his oeuvre. Accordingly, the article identifies the importance of corporeality within White's fiction, an aspect of his work that has often been occluded within critical readings committed to his transcendentalism. With particular reference to Julia Kristeva's theory of abjection and various recent theoretical conceptions of affect, it suggests that White's characters' sublime, recurring and transient forfeitures of identity may be profoundly imbricated with their surrender to--as opposed to their transcendence of--embodiment. Finally, the article argues that White's persistent elaboration of affect as corporeal suggests a physicality of literature that evokes the reader's own embodied sense of compassion. Altogether, the article explores the ways in which White's fiction reclaims a focus on corporeality that he perceived as lost to an inherently narcissistic modern consciousness.

Opsomming

Hierdie artikel beweer dat die oenskynlike ongelyksoortige affektiewe en liggaamlike sensasies van veragtelikheid en medelye die fiksie van die Australiese modemis Patrick White in beduidende mate vorm. Met die fokus spesifiek op White se vroeere werk The Living and the Dead ([1941]1977), wat dikwels op die kantlyn gestoot is in kritiese besprekings van sy skryfwerk, voer die artikel aan dat die dialektiese spanning tussen veragtelikheid en medelye wat White fassineer, sy voorstellings van (en gemoeidheid met) subjektiwiteit van die begin van sy oeuvre af, onderle. Dienooreenkomstig identifiseer die artikel die belangrikheid van liggaamlikheid in White se fiksie, 'n aspek van sy werk wat dikwels geabsorbeer word binne die kritiese lees van sy werke war verbonde is aan sy transendentalisme. Met spesifieke verwysing na Julia Kristeva se teofie van veragtelikheid en verskeie onlangse teoretiese opvattings van affek, voer die artikel aan dat White se karakters se verhewe, repeterende en verganklike verbeurverklaring van identiteit in diepgaande mate oorvleuel met hulle oorgawe tot--in teenstelling met hulle transendensie van--beliggaming. Laastens voer die artikel aan dat White se volgehoue verwerking van affek as liggaamlik 'n fisikaliteit van letterkunde voorstel wat die leser se eie beliggaamde sin van medelye oproep. Gesamentlik gesien verken die artikel die maniere waarop White se fiksie 'n fokus op liggaamlikheid terugeis wat hy waargeneem het as verlore tot 'n inherente narsissistiese moderne bewussyn.

In Patrick White's The Living and the Dead ([1941]1977), two statements regarding the body are significant to an understanding of his treatment of corporeality: at one point Eden Standish realises that "[c]ompassion is oddly physical" (p. 146); at another, human existence is described as governed by the "abject dictatorship of the flesh" (p. 263). These quotations furnish a productive literary tension running throughout White's oeuvre. The first statement assumes that it is through our physicality that we conceive of the positions and experiences of others; it implies that our bodies are fundamental to our ability to sympathetically imagine. The second statement presumes, however, that our perception of the body is fraught and uncomfortable. The body's exigencies, it states, intrude upon our lives, demanding and unwanted. As Elizabeth Hunter realises in The Eye of the Storm (White [1973]1987), every moment is "roaring rushing you towards incurable illness old age death corruption" (p. 528), and indeed White's fiction repeatedly emphasises corporeal activity and the body's inexorable progression towards death. …

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